Lisa Ampleman of Cincinnati, Ohio for Driving East, First Sunset after Daylight Savings Time; Create in me a clean heart; Trick of Light
Kimi Cunningham Grant of Huntingdon, Pennsylvania for How the Body Learns Loss; Topography of a Marriage; For Those Mourning
Éireann Lorsung of Beeston, Nottingham, England for England, or the continent I had in mind when I came here; With you; Aquí te pinte
Bruce Snider of San Francisco, California for Notes on the Harvest; Forecast; To Interstate 70
Paula Bohince of Plum, Pennsylvania for Pennsylvania Aubade; The Wild Garden
Rachel Dilworth of Gig Harbor, Washington for Spiral-bound; Beauty Supply Store Love Song; Post-Rain Pastoral
Tarfia Faizullah of Richmond, Virginia for Poetry Recitation at St. Catherine’s School for Girls; A Few Words for the Younger Self Seated at a Piano; Anatomy Model
Brieghan Gardner of Nottingham, New Hampshire for Mulberries; Work Interrupted by Blackbirds; Sleepwalk
Eric Leigh of San Francisco, California for Aria No 1; What Light Remains; The Company of Bleach and Strangers
Debbie Lim of Annandale, New South Wales, Australia for Meditation on a Whale’s Ear Bone; Bodies of Pompeii; How to Read Sapphires
Angie K. Mazakis of Bensenville, Illinois for Possibility
Claire McQuerry of Columbia, Missouri for Spring in Holy Cross Cemetery; Votive; Letter from Phoenix
Emily Louise Smith of Wilmington, North Carolina for Fields, Drifting Apart; The Day My Grief Up And Quit
Jennifer K. Sweeney of Kalamazoo, Michigan for Barn Owls; Forty Weeks; The Nightbird's Apprentice
Mark Wagenaar of Salt Lake City, Utah for Gospel of Wild Grapes & Empty Rooms; Portrait of the Artist with Dante; Dryspell
Scott Cameron of Rexburg, Idaho for Gucci Tie in a Sudden Snowstorm; Dvorak’s Symphony no.9 in Idaho
Dan Disney of Seoul, South Korea for Still Life; Smalltown études; Man with missing antithesis
Ari Finkelstein of Los Angeles, California for For an Old Gull; Shelley’s Ghost; The Conchologist
Jules Gibbs of Syracuse, New York for Brute Dictation; The Middle Distance; To the Imaginary
Brian Patrick Heston of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for Fire Hydrant; Barb and Jimmy; News from the Porch
Maria Hummel of San Francisco, California for Carousel, Ten Days after his Third Transfusion; Children’s Ward (I); Children’s Ward (II)
Charles Jensen of Silver Spring, Maryland for Intensive Care Unit; What Love Is; Walking Through Kihei After Dinner
Andrew Krewer of Tucson, Arizona for Dance in the Saguaro Palace; Ruby-Throats; Pondlife
Nina Lindsay of Oakland, California for Whatever; This morning; Call
Susan L. Miller of Brooklyn, New York for The field before Secausus
Rebecca Parson of Baltimore, Maryland for Burning Season; Poem For My Sister; Graveyard Calisthenics
Rachel Richardson of Greensboro, North Carolina for Little Exercise; Ultrasound; Heartbeat
Sarah Sousa of Ashfield, Massachusetts for Traveling North on Amtrak after Dark; The Field, The Field
Sarah Sweeney of Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts for Feeding Time; Visiting the Gravesite; You Must Admit
Matthew Thorburn of Riverdale, New York for “A Field of Dry Grass”; Relic; Pylsur
Jessica Young of Ann Arbor, Michigan for By the time you have read this far; I am learning Spanish; Common Question: Does the sun make a noise?
Marla Alupoaicei of Frisco, Texas for Mapping the Interior; Equinox; Ode to Printemps
Melissa Barrett of Columbus, Ohio for Harvest; To a Sick Child; Boy Eating Ice
Lindsay Bernal of Washington DC for Blossom Road; Broken Shoe; Postcard from Mazunte
Charles Byrne of Urbana, Illinois for The skin in asking
Chuck Carlise of Houston, Texas for Psalm 15 as the Hurricane Takes the Roof; Where We Are Tonight; Slicing Cucumbers for Salad & the Knife Slips
Tom Christopher of Greensboro, North Carolina for Confession; Snapshot: Neighborhood Independence Day Parade; Failed Meditation, Peach Pit
Austin L. Church of Knoxville, Tennessee for Deer Hunting in Wartime; All Philosophy is Homesickness
Chanda Feldman of San Francisco, California for In the Mirror; 1976
Michael J. Grabell of Brooklyn, New York for The Woodpile; Nike Missile Base; A Flamingo Gives Advice to its Chicks
K. A. Hays of Lewisburg, Pennsylvania for First Lesson
Wesley Holtermann of Berkeley, California for California; Milwaukee; Someone Had Been Throwing Weather Onto the City
Tess Jolly of Shoreham by Sea, West Sussex, England for Candle; The Brooms; Sunset
Jenn Koiter of Colorado Springs, Colorado for Color me Beautiful: Summer
Gary L. McDowell of Portage, Michigan for Accumulation; Selfish Couplets; On the Deck there's a Still Summer Evening
Christopher Nelson of Tucson, Arizona for Childhood; Childhood; Möbius Strip
Joanna Pearson of Baltimore, Maryland for October Inlet Wedding; The Moon Children; Hephaestus
Melissa Range of Columbia, Missouri for To a Swallowtail; In Praise of My Patella; Evangelion (1)
Michael Rutherglen of San Francisco, California for Santa Maria del Fiore; The Roman Snow; In Praise of Artifice
Martin Arnold of Greensboro, North Carolina for Itinerary a Sunset, Paycheck Surprise; Grace; The Ignoble Sublime
Kevin Bridge of Churchdown, Gloucester, England for The Window Pane
Brian Brodeur of Fairfax, Virginia for Rat Heaven; When Everyone I Loved was still Alive; The Rented House
Marie Gauthier of Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts for Invocation to the Dream as Buoy; Little God & His Mother, Act I; Four Elements
Christopher DeWeese of Atlanta, Georgia for The Orchard; The Seastack; Stagecoach
Kristi Moos of Stockton, California for Learning with Asthma; Dream of my Deathbed
E. K. Mortenson of Stamford, Connecticut for No word for the Darkness; Raw; Tomorrow, Tonight
Matthew Nienow of Port Townsend, Washington for The End of the Folded Map; On the Day You Were Born; Corduroy Road
Jemila Spain of Eugene, Oregon for Reverie and Rain; It is Yours; Symphony at Sunrise
Brian Teare of San Francisco, California for Diagnosis; Illness; Convalescence
Catherine Theis of Chicago, Illinois for Heads or Tails; Pacific; Intimacy
Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you. ─Coldplay
An inexact geography: the road to your house
never had a name,
but I knew the way by heart.
Best we couldn't fathom
this would be our last year together,
kept living at the same trajectory, a leisurely latitude,
sharing breakfast on the beach, some kind of communion.
Opening the vein, tracing it through
the vestal terrain of the heart.
The inseparable linking of our two domains
like atoms of lead & gold.
Legend, cipher: what we found surprised us more
than the steady drip of the hospital clock,
the inevitable sting of its two black needles
What we found undid us more
than the sound of your own heart
Go on ahead of me now.
Me, charting life with a star-map of words;
you loved the world through the camera’s lens.
Now I’m the patron saint of lost things
scavenging the wreckage for amulets
of what has been, anything I can hold onto─
like a diver combing the Titanic for crystal candlesticks,
a pocketwatch, a demitasse yawning on its gold-rimmed saucer.
By the bed, my favorite photo of us (we’re in half-shadow)
a paradox of light available & ambient.
The real test,
they say, is what you do with what you have left
so I enter the loss, let it envelop me, swallow me whole,
swim in its sea as we swam under the open sky
& slept under Albireo, the double star,
embroidered on night’s velvet blanket.
There’s nothing I’d fix
even if I could:
I recreate myself with you
in perfect tense.
The light you’ve left behind
is the door I walk through.
What’s lost is nothing to what’s found,
and all the death that ever was,
set next to life, would scarcely fill a cup.
Shortened days send the signal
to let go, red maple
entrusting body & soul to the wind
Deciduous: bitterness spreads like a rumor
through the veined wings of a leaf
A body rife with longing,
an ache more primal than language
What does nature want
but our attention, participation,
The eleven-pointed outline
like the imprint of a hand
death contained in life
adjourn leaf from stem
Listen: a hush and rustle like applause,
your last, best gift
Every small thing
deserves a quiet place to rest
Your days, like ours,
numbered from the start
A cupful of mulled wine, blushing like Eve,
Blemished & blessed
as all of us,
bravely mirroring heaven
Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child
that knows poems. ─Rainer Maria Rilke
Praise be to the cheated winter, the hallelujah chorus
of tulips robed in satin. Let the empty shell
of the robin’s egg, a cup of whispered sky, remind you
of the self you’ve left behind. Cracked open & flown.
Listen to morning’s Symphonie Fantastique,
nature trilling the idée fixe.
For each thing lost (sheep, coin, or son)
find something sacred
cloistered in the corner of your life.
Walk barefoot on new grass
as it scorns gravity, persistent as hope.
Trust in arable land: it will open its book
of secrets. What lies fallow beneath,
the truth will grow & cover. Resurrect yourself
like a bud tossing off the graveclothes
& bursting from the branch. Bless the way
the Bradford pear, ornamental,
spreads its lace-blossom wings. Revel as each leaf
delights in photosynthesis, its own personal miracle.
Sit on your porch with the children & poets,
sipping a glassful of glory. Let the grackles
cackle their opus, rooting blue-black in a puddle.
Blessed be those who know their secret:
believe your song is beautiful
& sing it with all your might.
for Rose Shapiro
Though these things, as I ride, be from mine eye,
They are present yet unto my memory.
In our hemmed time, the moon floats
above the treeline at 4:30,
while the sun blazes off the backs of semis,
sets distant signs afire.
Florid, its setting fills the rearview mirror,
small inset of day’s glory
in the darkening expanse of windshield.
I drive eastward, your namesake flower
tossed carelessly in the backseat.
Instead of All Souls, today we celebrated
you, who waved as you passed
my office door, who was only a quick
passing shape to whom I called out
a hello and never said goodbye,
who in your final days read
the Paradiso I’d borrowed and slid
under your door as I moved out.
These things, far from my eyes, the day rusting,
the night pulling darkness into itself.
Let our souls be spheres—those that gain light
and are whirled, whole, into the dark sky,
those that leave so gradually
they stain the sky with their passing.
My friend watches chicken embryos form their hearts:
a fleshy sheet folds over into a tube
that partitions into chambers and valves.
Victor touches them with fine instruments
to find the lines of tension.
After all, we tear where we’re supposed to,
and surgeons who know this can find the right
seams for their blades.
If I tear, I ignore it. If heartsore, pretend my torso
is tin-man hollow. When I want a new heart,
I will the organ to pink up,
begin diastole, systole,
ventricular contraction. The muscle’s
myocytes need no electricity
to start the cycle, after all.
But each time I attempt a new
variable (him; no, him)
it’s just pouring new wine
into an old wineskin, patching a piece
of new fabric onto old
and tearing both. Victor puts another
carton of eggs into the incubator.
Another sheet folds over.
I walk into a bar and sit down at your table.
for my mother
I drove home through fog, the cloud-lowered, air-saturated
white, an eerie
always-arriving in a clearing. Strange world:
a fir became a small billboard. A pile of hay bales, a tractor.
dark shapes, refused to be distinct. But at the river,
when I expected the thickest mist, the air cleared,
and I could see
downtown’s highrises glittering
where the clouds had come unseamed for a beam of light.
I know that you cannot
see peripherally, that color has left your left eye’s
vision, the macaroni stirring from orange
and back to orange. The right has lost sight altogether.
Still, you’re not sure the doctor should break your septum,
remove the growth
crowding out sight. Optic nerve, pituitary,
carotid artery, gray matter: how close everything is.
I want to believe
in his micro-instruments, to tell you
that at sunrise, there’s a moment when color comes back,
the grass green again
instead of gray, that tree suddenly “oak,”
each leaf’s lobes forming the image of a tree, too,
the ground a gritty carpet
of acorn shells. That it’s all the same as it was.
We chose to meet somewhere neutral: whole
angel oaks and puckered birches, surrounding pine
wearing skirts of low branches.
Ten months later, you’re reluctant, still thinking
what to say. We walk hundreds of hectares,
the dirt path horseshoeing a beet field just planted
and we talk: quietly, capably—I’m spouting
Carolyn Heilbrun, how she knew her end well enough
to walk right into it. Like Mishima and the sword,
you add, with three feet steeping between us.
At noon it was weather to paint houses in; now
the thunderheads are portly, unapologetic—
We can smell the rain, feel our shoulders sag
under the weight of it. Shoots of birdsfoot trefoil
tinge the copse and shudder, the wind laces a carol
through the bracken, the sugar beets, the low field stares.
We keep pardoning each other, but with both hands
hidden. We keep leaving one thing unsaid.
To listen instead for the congeries of chapped
and dirtcrusted seeds, muscling through the soil
like spinning tops. This could be the season
of arrow-hearted meat, of soil streaking violet.
I nearly felt it that afternoon— October’s
juiced cossettes, rows of life so sweet they palpitate.
You may think it’s all gone
unnoticed: your life
a voice, feeble
beneath a chorus, that no one
can hear you from under
the floorboards of disease.
You’re here: saddled in a room
with walls so small and white
they fold down like little wings,
and the pleats of your little body
lay, soaking in the same
sun-starved clothes, hidden
between bedcovers. It’s true
we don’t know what you need.
what childhood is. The sway
and candor of our moon, the great tilt
of the sky: completely feckless
for you, the one who grows
dizzy from staring.
But the pulse of the ocean
remains inside: teasing, lulling.
Close your eyes and read
the images there. These
are the true psalms, for in dreams
we unbolt the back door
and tiptoe out, to the far-off.
It is his gift,
at this age when his torso
is longest, twenty years old and cinching
right up to
a ridge of skin, every bit of him
around a coil of crucial organs—
that locketed holy mesh
home of pit and pat.
Once I bought dinner
for a boy who drank a large Sprite
just to get to
his jaw never stopped.
When I see this boy’s
confident bank of teeth going,
boulders touch boulders.
It’s convincing someone
who never once believed.
In fealty, he gives
up so much, just looking—
with winter apple eyes . . .
I told myself I loved him.
I was right.
of the governance of woman
when I see this boy before me, his ribs
stacking like plinths—
who learn to live in a circumference
of dime, and boys
in whole fields of loosestrife.
The wind lifts
each piece of his hair
as it lifts each soft
sorghum head, a vault
of sky widens:
You’ve always wanted
to be that effortless
But I’m slight, scurrying
against granite, against
this stillborn November—
My chest a well
of cold air: Go Go Go
it says . . .
Even when I guide my own hand
I feel I’m pinning something down.
I don't know why I pulled over, idling, just before Christmas,
two months of snow and salt
plowed onto the shoulder, each squat rambler aglow, a life-size
baby Jesus reborn in the DiPasquale's front yard,
why everything looked different, the way the woods you got
lost in as a kid seem small
and disappointing when you return to them older, because I
hadn’t been out of there that long,
less than a year, and as far as I could tell in the December blur,
beyond the slight expansion of the motherhouse infirmary, where
the sick nuns, most of them retired teachers,
convalesced or passed, where I’d volunteered during study hall
changing bed pans and pouring Hawaiian punch into paper cups,
they hadn’t renovated the spired building I’d entered day after
my plaid jumper becoming more ironic with each curve.
How selfish it is after you leave a place to doubt that it could
function without you.
That it all goes on was enough to make me crack, facing the
I’d stood around with my class, less than a hundred of us, in
Easter white in another season,
singing or pretending to sing as the May queen and her
court offered flowers to the stone Virgin,
and before I knew it, I was driving away again fast and far.
White dress, one foot bare, sky on the verge of rain
in a city where the sky seems always on the verge of rain,
Moscow or Glasgow or Rochester, New York,
with nothing to toss into the Genesee but this busted slingback,
my underwear wadded at the bottom of my bag.
On a hard walk centuries before Vivier invented stilettos,
Mary Hamilton broke the heel off her shoe.
That detail appears in most versions of the ballad
but not in the one sung by Baez,
who didn't bother with shoes at all for a long time
and never smoked anything, never drank
her way into trouble or forgetting.
(In my head she's biting a Red Delicious,
slapping her Adam's apple to improve her vibrato.)
Everything went wrong for her, for Mary Hamilton, I mean.
And courtship is the worst: one minute you’re splitting
steak and frites, falling for the oldest tricks in the book,
and the next, you're back at his place flat on the floor,
knowing that the night will amount only to morning.
Somehow Peter, Paul, and Mary are still singing.
Thousands of miles by car, not rail,
with a brand new timing belt, a tent, luck—
though we found worms in the orange juice.
Though for eight days straight
we’ve been unable to eat.
This is not a landscape I know:
loud, unidentifiable birds, the coast
giving rise to mountains, our palapa peppered
with hyacinth. Here, when he touches me,
I hear the Pacific crash, as precious as that is.
There's no disembodiment: I am my hips
moving, my chest caving in;
that strange sound I make is mine.
When I see myself in his eyes,
when the sun reaches a certain height—
No, I can’t go home this a-way. This a-way.
This far away from grief.
The spider drowses in her diamonds.
This is her kempt home, the morning’s doorway
through which God enters and shines.
The ecstatic jay tambourines from the maple,
red leaves rising in ovation.
Yesterday’s supper sings
in the trough to the piglets, whose tails
are the essence of happiness.
Our gray woods turn pink, then amber.
All of my beloveds are here, even the ones
who must return as the gleam
on an apple lifted to the pony’s teeth
or as mothering wind ruffling the heads
of buttercups sprawled in the field.
A spring erupts, giggling like a grandmother
recalling some lost story. A quartet of wrens
bathe, mid-air, in that magical water.
The possum crosses the still-empty
road, sleepy for home, her children padding
behind, closing their sun-dazzled eyes.
Because I cannot bear to distinguish between
flower and weed,
myself having felt so often
neither beautiful nor chosen, but want
to live, urgently,
as the weed does.
For I love the weed’s persistence,
its mighty green, and how it will sometimes flower
and frill, despite itself,
and how these flourishes are miraculous.
When there are holes
in the rabbit-proof fence, I leave them
un-mended, inviting in
I salt the earth
for deer who roam the garden under moonlight,
their ragged coats turning silver.
The pumpkin’s curling stems hold close
the anonymous, and the tomatoes
go un-staked, their blushing cheeks pressed low
to earth in the position
I cultivate myself every day, bowing down
not to pluck, but to praise.
This poem will be posted when the author provides it.
My tie had never imagined snow in Eastern Idaho
except in white silk, like I had never imagined Italy
except in my Italian Uncle and his taste for expensive silk
and in my father’s stories of a summer abroad
where Italy became forever Florence and always Dolomites,
rising again and again in ragged geometry.
The flakes flew large as bumblebees, erratic as bumblebees
falling, taking to lazy flight, then harsh
and horizontal against my tie, against my face.
The snow clinging to me, to my tie, like a thinly remembered
story of my father standing in the back of a manure truck
winding its way up narrow lanes to Verbicaro,
where he with a classmate would visit her relatives—
they would think, crouched around a small table clutching wine,
that he was a fiancé; his Italian too shaky, a failure to disprove.
Sometimes my back aches with the night he spent
on a cold couch, the fire burned down. The sky at dawn crisp
and blue as the snow-framed juniper berries I am walking by.
How could an Italian designer know such storms in Idaho?
The abstracted bridle and stirrup pattern so extravagantly Gucci
become snow-capped basilicas and windowed blue sky?
The basilicas I have half surmised from pictures,
the Italian skies, a broken blue, my mind has failed to disprove.
The answer is white thread, hidden wires, unintended innuendo.
Rexburg in winter’s craw demands little
imagination, just gray on gray. Not even the wit
of a paint chip—enigma gray,
And so I wonder if Dvorak,
growing up in Hungary, summering once in Iowa
could imagine four months of ice-packed streets in Idaho,
and an old stone hall cluttered with people unused to
but craving symphony.
He was groomed to be a butcher after all; he knew
blood and the grinding of joints when you sever them.
But could such quotidian conjure a red-haired, high school bassoonist
or perhaps a mother, once a small-town violin virtuoso
now waking in the middle of the night to the practiced pizzicato
of Dvorak’s symphonic New World that she believes hides a child’s whimpers.
The ice, the gray, the musicians divided between music
and counting the rhythms of each day,
but inside the stone hall the rollicking
spring set in E minor
that Rexburg aches for amidst too much winter.
Dvorak’s violins knifing through this work, drums
thudding in the rise and fall of cleaver
on slate butcher block. And then,
a strange knocking like 19th century séances,
calling the dead to speak in code;
not quite part of the composing,
certainly not coming from the stage
but singing in cold, thudding pain—
an old man has fallen at the back of the hall.
As people fumble to contain the body’s
compulsive, irreverent knocking,
we wonder if we should run to some rescue
because this is the New World,
or if decorum requires stillness horrified.
We don’t know if somehow in Iowa
or in the cold smell of slaughtered animals, Dvorak heard this man’s seizure
ages away; his body, an instrument, beating
uncontrollably in time.
When the storm reaches you
with wings & falling stones – when it passes
your borrowed room – rips shingles from the roof – presses
its eye to the attic boards; when mist rises
from foothills for days, til the trees themselves – the live-oak
& river birch – slowly disappear – & the distant rumble
of thunder & wind is indistinguishable from earthgrowl –
subterranean, the mountain come back to rebuild itself;
when you stand, then, your pockets full of nails, to trace
small circles in the splinters & dust –
the scrape & sputter of living through – & even your name
clings like a toddler, like a tune you can’t shake: wait.
The storm will cycle back (it always does) –
it is not meant as metaphor but event – a thing
happening. You’ll nail cardboard to the windows,
blankets to the cardboard. You’ll stock candles,
water, move lamps into closets, listen for the wind.
It won’t help. & when the ceiling collapses, it won’t
even make sense at first. What now?
Learn to live on the edges, you think,
the periphery – to wake & stand, to move
through the room – learn to think nothing
of the room at all – to not see it – the pools
of damp wood, the cost – it’s not so bad. It’s not so bad.
Whose words are these, falling
to the floor like light? Whose name?
Whose breath on the drop-rotting plaster?
There is not space here for anger –
to pull the lamps from their closets –
no, it’s time to wake, to stand, to move through the room.
Tonight we broke into the theater hall after hours -
pulled one another through half-open windows,
felt our way down stuffy stone corridors,
hands held in grinning silence.
You knelt in my lap when we reached the auditorium,
knees & shins straddling my thighs in the loft of balcony seats,
your hands tracing my cheek
as if learning me through fingertips,
but careful, quiet as space,
our soft voices resonating through these spires & empty aisles –
a history of echoed ovations & discreet whispers,
forgotten but not quite gone,
breathing still in a swell of words & wandering drafts.
(You heard them too.)
& this hall - black-stone walls & stained glass windows,
high gothic ceilings wrapping us in residual hush
of humid breath & dust-covered shadow,
darkened stage below dotted with colored moonlight
like flowers flung at ovation’s end,
swept & gathered before the night is even over.
There is an ache in the bones, a soft tremble
in my fingers & wrists in places as timeless as this -
a sudden startling sense of how easily our lives distill
into the moments we’ll define them by;
how they funnel us down into scenes of such clarity,
that it seems everything that has ever happened
to bring us to this point
(which, of course, it has).
You lifted my head to face you -
a pale shadow glowing against the darkness.
All night we trade on this -
this tangle of perpetual & transitory –
till we can almost ignore the coming curtain call,
wait instead in suspension of belief
for the warm murmur of shuffling feet & creaking chairs –
the sad confusion of exits –
& emerge, amazed, wide-eyed, breathless,
Longing we say, because desire
is full of endless distances.
This is a recollection, even as it’s happening;
these wordless flashes, layering on one another
before my mind can sort them,
stuttered echoes – repeating,
rephrasing themselves one at a time:
first a hidden gush of water channeling
through kitchen pipes;
window-light of July afternoon glaring
off the pitted wood table;
now her voice, almost a question “Oh!?”
as the knife slips;
then my fumbling with the white box,
her hand held up for me,
finger out like a child waiting for her mother to kiss it away.
There is distance in this awareness, this naming of events,
a need for safety,
& for an instant I want nothing more than to know
how the scene will end,
if she is silently fitting these moments together as well –
watching us move toward something,
the way I watched her reach for
the plastic cutting board just seconds ago –
or further, the way a story is told: how scene draws
& the mind fills in all the blank, undramatic details –
not the clarity of photos in an album
but the empty space between them –
we are living in that space,
blindly creeping, even now, toward some indecipherable end,
that will someday feel so natural
we won’t even think to wonder
who we might have become without it.
We are both still staring at the now-covered wound,
& I am cradling her hand in my palm.
Water has begun to pool at the vegetable shavings in the drain.
I almost look up to her face, but hesitate,
& let go instead.
I have left you again
to sleep in sweat-damped
sheets, the streetlight’s window-filtered glow,
knowing from the sudden press
of fingers, a breath caught short, that some
whispers a knife
against your throat. As you burrow and curl
in defense, I console
myself imagining it
will pass by dawn, leaving
of the visit—fitful sleep preferred to none.
this is true. Yet also my complicit
weakness: fearing the dumb fumble
for words as you thrust back, gasping,
into this watery dark,
my cold wonder,
as you shudder against me, if in that minute
before you wake,
the devil wears my voice.
Star spangled sunglasses,
T-shirts proudly flying the Old Glory,
you wore what the crowd wanted
a thrill bright and harmless as a sparkler.
Like sitcom sweethearts,
you and your best
friend waved among the miniature classic
cars, the bikini clad
American Dream blowing
kisses from a truck bed. What a promise
you two made:
freckled cheeks, hair braids
glistening like a school teacher’s apple
or a coin flipped
into a wishing well.
And for you, three miles of release,
nothing but the asphalt’s heat
through you like the marching band’s
brassy crescendo, to watch your parents
into distance, indistinct figures
calling from an abandoned shore, a faraway
trying not to be forgotten.
It’s a practice of release—the world, for a moment,
not burning on its little stake—
to look at the peach pit
and not see
the sanguine shade of a day-old scab
or the woody form resembling a hump of rumpled
bedclothes, to not even feel the word peach pit
on the mind’s inner tongue, and perceive
instead only a simple object
closed within its existence,
locking the half-cracked door of attachment
which swings freely
into the evenings and alleyways
of desire. There was a guy I once knew in high school
who thought peaches were the sexiest of foods:
the soft sag
of the fruit in your palm, blonde fuzz
and blush, the center’s crenellation
like the skin’s
secret folds. Peach pit, he believed, pronounced
our most beautiful English sound. How easily
we teased him, and how patiently
he rinsed away
Dr. Peaches marker-scrawled on his football jersey
or scraped the sun-baked splatter from his truck’s
windshield. He left
after graduation for Wyoming,
hired on as a ranch hand. Years later, I learned how
his mother beat him regularly for a million capricious
reasons and also
how a girlfriend once described
their months together as the safest she has ever felt,
like falling asleep on a Saturday afternoon.
to miss someone you never really knew, half a lifetime
away. It feels false,
like missing a landscape you have
never walked. Yet it grips me, at times, sudden
and violent as the world’s hard,
Switch grass and big bluestem. Soft nap
of a horse’s
ear. Peach pit, whispered to an endless field and sky.
Every bird’s song turns a key
in the sky. A lone crow sows eulogy.
Blue jay’s cry stings the air like a needle.
Waves of starlings turn in on themselves,
go back the way they came. Little brown jobs
flit from twig to twig, tilt tiny heads
to listen to the earth groan.
A mother dreading a telephone call,
the wind picks up brown leaves, puts them
down, doesn’t know what to do with itself.
Encased in ice, trees keep vigil.
Silence broadcasts every falling leaf.
A buck with twin steeples noses cold dirt
below me. I don’t raise my rifle.
I grieve my part in this fracas
of bloodshed and metal.
I pray a psalm to hasten
that great stasis of blood.
Let the bullets float stupidly like
stunned fish. Let detonators sputter
and fail. Let flightless vultures eat
each other, leaving bones of peace.
May hard, dark children remember how
to play. May the stupid slouching wreck
of human vengeance walk its own plank.
May doublespeak metaphors deployed
to bury truth blow their cover, get tongue
-tied, flummoxed, rust alongside hectares
of silent machinery.
Give me eyes to sing the unseen:
every yellow tare and cedar,
every frozen bush, is burning.
“All philosophy is homesickness,”
Novalis wrote. We pine for a place
we've never seen,
Leaves of the autumn-sick oak
gather the last yellow of this year’s sun.
That Japanese maple is wet with light,
its crooked lines a blood red
too pure for any language.
Were we to dwell here and now
in these revelations of rocks,
clichés of momentary grandeur,
would we swell or shrink?
Family of raccoons living in the storm
sewer. Neighborhood cat’s cryptic path.
Were we to plant ourselves in
ineffable pomp of life,
would we regain our sight?
Slug’s thread of slime on the sidewalk,
two D’Anjou pears on the table,
smell of coffee in the cold house,
tin-singing and cessation of rain.
Jesus loved such nothings
and gave himself to them,
to the maw and metal teeth
of philosophy and hope.
We beg for the same alien
grace of naming here our homeland.
For My Niece Elena, Entering the Sixth Grade
Since in two days, she must embrace the middle
school moil of lockers, boys liked, periods
hustled to with pack of outsized tomes
slung over one shoulder, long lunchtables,
and tests in every last thing—even the flute
she’s only begun—we’re festooning notebooks.
No Trapper Keeper or Pee-Chee doodle art
for this. We want something photographic.
Today, we sense, is for affixing beauties
already in evidence, for making record.
Today we are, blessedly, eleven,
and it is good to be among the stars
of last year’s Audubon calendar. We cut
carefully, no feather marred, and read
their names aloud to hear in each the praise:
ruby-throated, western, belted, American,
black-capped, northern, song, common, crowned.
Her own name hymns “Nana’s mother,” gone before
we two could love her—open-palmed, sound
in her God, industrious, tender, fine.
My name, “lamb.” I plant hummingbird children
in a nest that my biologist mom has taught me
is lichen on my cover; my niece, a chickadee,
house wren, and warbler into conversation
on hers. Also, a two-headed turtle rescued
from a National Geographic discard. (I take,
from same, the unnamed bay shadowed in mulberry
and ink with one dock and a smatter of boats
coming or going, kindled like wicks.) She laughs,
charmed to happen on a cache of gold monkeys
enfolding each other, and I think of last week—
my sister and I teaching her to watch rockfields
for the scutter and small business of pikas
on Mt. Rainier (all 14,000 vertical
feet of which my sister has climbed), and the lupine
for rimples of the butterflies called Blues.
I ask, will her subject tab read “Science” or “Social
Studies,” as I slip “Poetry” into my own.
“I’m going to use my book for stories,” purls
back the resolution. “But they’re hard to start.”
Sweetheart, oh sweetheart.
She hands me a page on which she’s created
a frontispiece to paste into my book:
my name in fluted columns of kaleidoscope color
underpinned with the charge, “Take chances, make mistakes.”
For hers, I fashion the lift of creamy petals in a field of green.
Last touch, we need a first-page word. She carols
through scores of possibles, lands on “Discover.”
But watching her turn amidst the flock of birds
and glowing boats and wide-eyed pages before us, I write
“Alight.” Approving, she packs her new schoolbag to go
and gives me a “See ya, Tia!” and an upturned cheek
on which I rest a long second as I kiss good luck
our ruby-throated, black-capped, American, song.
There was so much just plain good in the ceaseless eagerness
he talked with. Words percolated and jumped from him
like a hot spring: spray conditioner, detangler, leave-in,
a retinue of suitables for the stylish woman.
Liver-spotted, smaller than it must once have been,
his hand grazed along the shelves that held them
brand by brand: the illustrious, the pretentious,
the frivolous and expensive aristocratic
families of products, the lineage from each king-size.
You’d expect he would be cowed by their fancy names
and packaging; made to seem misplaced and puttery.
That should’ve been what I found unsettling. But
it was the way he held forth on the best of them—a long-time
friend, trying to draw me in with their secrets.
It was all that knowledge offered like a hand in welcome,
the rain of samples, and the way he lost track of my question
as he moved, reverently, through his heroic catalogue:
Paul Mitchell, Abba, Biolage, Lange,
Aveda, Nexus, KMS, Sebastian.
It was the fact I knew no one would let him do this
soon again; that when I left, he would sit at the desk
in silence, tinkering with a crossword or capping pens
until someone maybe wandered in for bobby pins.
Whole-hearted as a child, his love of beauty grew
between us till it became impossible
not to need a prettier picture
for his store of expertise, not to leave
reinforced by the enhancements he championed
for me—his intense shine, his all-day hold.
The animals have flowered from the ark
into local fields again. Inebriate
with sun, replete bodies of cattlestock
plump in chummy batches on the rangeland
and baby black lambs fall crazy in love with legs.
Scrub jays glint with new-scrubbed blue
from clumps of oleander, and the warm skins of horses
brighten into mirrors. No land has ever been
so solidly new, nor I more animal
myself: the shocked calf licked clean from her sac,
chick or salamander cracked blinking from her egg,
stunned with the luck of being born
and the warm, abundant feast of light.
i.m. Gianluca Lena
Swallows are curving the stained weather
above worn-faced Caesars, who sweep marble arms through
the days and nights
beyond us. At the ruined Forum, the strada
ploughed by Mussolini for his own
idea of omnipresence.
Over unreal estates, CCTV fields of bitumen,
teenage low-grade irritants are squawking, 3D cut-outs skateboarding
across an expanse
of interesting wallpaper. Is this
the shape of us? Always stricken, homeless amid monuments,
shambling slowly as those who have travelled
such little distance
that everything seems ordinary.
Omeo Highway, Great Dividing Range
The sky is sparrow-filled granite, this open country
veneered with estates sudden as dark water rising. Main Street
clusters with pensioners
combing back their hair in cafeterias
and blinking over cappuccino.
At the Rotunda auctioneers admire bank windows, reflective
rattling empty toward mountains.
Cicada husks cling to fencelines in pre-prefab paddocks.
Mares buck the abattoir scent curling at town’s edge, where hammerfall and lo-ing
flattens into the null.
Like caravans at a crossroads, the cows stand
monolithic in this quasi-primal scenery: chewing
at the floodplain trees, crooked beside roadhouses leaned back from the horizon.
The town clenched around its highway
and roadkill, cars tilting through the disequilibrium unstopping.
Chainsaws grind at scrublines like incisors.
Somewhere (as trees fall) the ministrations of old radio
and in the dimly-lit kitchens of farmer widows
of panic: the fire brigade’s practice an occult minuet
in these dry-mouthed hills.
Rabbits thump the blind underground
and eels slide up pussy-willow riverbeds. In this garden of delights
it’s the unquiet that is a landmark, unspoken
as the sentences of strange ghosts.
iv. Swifts Creek
The creek bends over stone, a snake unskinning itself. Hats gather
at the garage and trucks slough past
unloading timber at the mill. A bus draws in to school, freckled generations
at its windows. Up the road, the cemetery
is carved with phonebook names.
These mountains locked as a grave.
Sheep stare through seasons. Workdogs howl on chains
filling ringbarked afternoons. Weather speculations
drawl out the half-open windows of slowed cars
in town for groceries.
Locals thumb their belt hoops. A crow scours the hills. Lawnmowers are droning
orchestrations of dominion.
The sky almost a void, Mount Kosciusko its distant steeple.
In the cleared valleys boxwood stumps gnarl
amid haystacks inert as tractors rusting on blocks.
The weatherboards here, scant and haunted
in the bawling frames of wind, scatter out darker altitudes
where hair-trigger farmers stark with short answers lope across taut daylight.
Quince and crab apple rot in dropped circles
while scarecrows mute as döppelganger survey the wild churchyard
long empty of its song.
. . . man is a centaur, a tangle of flesh and mind, divine inspiration and dust.
Primo Levi The Periodic Table
There will be mystagogues
yes and lawns mowed on weekends. There will be
a millionth bee . . . yes and a trillionth.
and quiet desperation, multiplicity (tangled)
and soon there will be birds
with small motors (but no lightning
from the fingertips). Verily, yes, Loris one day will be happy
There will be daily papers. Yes they may
read all about it.
Flux and dark quanta
there will be sneezing
(small faux orgasm of the proboscis).
There will be
coincidental hysteria, cries of huzzah! They will be prone
to slipping from their minds.
Yes to tennis. Yes to dictionaries. Yes to monkey wrenches.
There will be isting
and also existing under and upon the ground.
Studies will be done
on the vagaries of monsters
(there will be shadows the size of a crack in their days).
They will nuzzle at night
they will make pets of one another.
Here shall begin
the vast agglomerations of et cetera.
"If this were the beginning of a poem, he would have
called the thing he felt inside him the silence of snow."
-Orhan Pamuk, Snow
Before the hanging cross, the girls
take turns standing at attention before
us with eyes closed or hands clasped,
headbands bright green or bangles
yellow, glints that fill the silence like
falling snow. They recite poems they
have carried in their mouths for days,
and my desire to go back, to be one
among these slender, long-haired girls
is a thistle, sharp and twisting at my
side. The words psalm, blessing, lord,
rise in me like bees heavy with pollen,
and the teenager I once was unzips
herself from me, emerges, a crocus
bristling through snow. She is back
in the old chapel where the priest
again lifts into the air the Bible,
declaims about the kingdom of God,
gifts promised only the righteous—
the girl I was, heavy and slow in her
thick glasses, knew she would never
enter heaven, never be these young girls
singing, arms pale and slim as the white
birch whose branches, dappled with gold,
shade the stained glass window. In Pamuk's
novel, the headscarf girls in Eastern Turkey
hang themselves rather than go uncovered,
and still I desire that certainty of conviction,
even as the self beside me pulls on her hair,
sucks long strands of it deep into her mouth,
so I gather her in my arms, shake her, tell
her to listen, that the sky will always happen,
these branches. Sometimes, it causes me
to tremble, tremble, she sings beside these
girls who will grow into or away from their
bodies, and I know I must push the heavy
amber of her back inside me. Help me, Lord.
There are so many bodies inside this clumsy one.
-with lines from To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf
I sleep the morning away, the afternoon. You fly over the ocean to a country cratered with ships, rusted over, held at anchor. Our mother sends a box filled with crimson and violet material constellated by stars. I put it away.
Silent for many years, you turn your face to the window, and still no words hang in air sanded with saltwater. Do not lift your hands to play. Go scrub the dirt from your nails.
Someone turns your music on. Then off. I turn, half-awake. The light is long-stemmed, then gone. Night comes.
You transcribe in your journal, something has grown in me here, through the winters and summers, on staircases, in bedrooms. You want to give of yourself to anyone who asks. Squares of paper line your room, you line your lips before the mirror.
Do not lift your hands to play. Go wash your face. Someone strums a guitar. Bruised day. Imperfect day.
I am absent-minded. I become the window looking out from the kitchen to streets below. I am gathering you in my arms, that many yards of you.
One summer you are ocean water. You do not shower for months. Put your tongue to your own skin. Each night, long white shores of salt harden on your thighs. Do not lift your hands to play. Go comb your hair, smooth your dress. There will be hours before you can put out the light, lie suspended above the world.
Speeding across the flatlands
of West Texas, you are the girl
laid down again in the backseat
of the old Suburban—hours
your sister slept you watched
clouds cluster into familiar
gray mountains. Imagine that
the other side of the storm
your father crashed through was
a world where dead meant nothing
more than elsewhere: your lost
friend retrieved from cracks forked
in stone below a cliff, your sister's
heart restored, and between
their transparent fingertips
the fresh feather of a sparrow,
the thorned scrim of tumbleweed—
how badly you want to rest
here awhile, among trembling
fists of bluebonnets scoring
each hollow of brown grass
you pass on your way through
small town after small town,
each boasting the best barbecue,
football team, strong boys,
prettiest girls. The best of everything
is what I have always given
you, your father reminded
as you watched your sister
help him open chamber
after plastic chamber of a model
human heart, wanting to be the one
unclasping each metal hinge holding
red valve, blue ventricle, then hooked
aorta, every chiseled vein. Already
you are jotting down this memory, too.
Already it is an artifact it never was.
Already you are adding to it the purity
of this grass now rippling through
sudden rain. When he slipped that
stethoscope's blunt buds into your ears,
let you listen to the sounding of your
own heart, you didn't protest, and when
he tapped you there, said, If this is gone,
you will be gone too, you imagined
not fist but his cracked palm beating
inside you. Just outside Eden, Texas,
you are emerging from the other side
of this thick storm, and you are driving
past tall, thin windmills knifing wind
and knifing rain with long, white blades.
There is still no cleaving this loss you
will not name, like the porcelain doll
whose hair you once brushed over
and over until not a curl remained.
Works currently withheld
I watched him hobble over sand
when all his friends were flying.
They went for fish, he came for me
and stood, his good eye on my book.
I had no bread to give him.
The one-eyed, weather-beaten gull
cracked his beak, then shuffled on.
Twice I saw him try to escape
the land, alone, and then return.
They say that gulls go out to sea to die.
The smooth-skinned sands are indifferent to it,
but the bearded waves express their care.
Whispering prayers, they genuflect,
whitecapped heads bent low.
This is the hymn for old gulls.
They must feel their wings faltering
as the spray leaps over them,
and then into their warped reflections
they fall with hardly a sound.
A lone loon surfaces.
Its suffering is
an operatic warble.
I think of Shelley sailing into the storm.
echoes after it’s gone.
The lake returns to marble.
I think of Shelley sailing into the storm.
Full of seashells, my childhood home
echoes with the complaint of waves.
It sits in the mountains
ringed with purple pines.
But always, it has been full of seashells.
A nautilus on the fireplace.
A giant clam in the vestibule.
Our glass shelves are full of seashells
instead of photographs or books.
My father collects them. One summer
he returned from Fiji with a knapsack
full of seashells. I stole a cowrie.
It whispered in my ear, I stuffed
my toy and sock drawers full of seashells.
Like an eight-foot breaker
he started to roar, but I was in the yard,
it was bright and breezy, there were pebbles,
needles pricking my feet, the hiccup
of toads in long-necked reeds,
I was full of seashells, glazed with sun.
He’s still there, rolling through rooms,
two wives gone, three children,
and two glittering stories full of seashells.
A gift from a friend
at the farmers’ market,
a neighbor’s leftovers,
the fruit that nobody
grows on purpose anymore,
but whose tree still stands
on all the old farms, tall
and shady, brimming with birds
and the black-red berries that
drop as they ripen, stain
your fingers, your lips,
your teeth purple with bliss.
Sugar fattened on sun and soil,
moon and rain, all June’s festival
packed into one song.
They worry me:
too much sweetness
at once for any one person,
any one family, just as the earth
gives too much for any one
world to reabsorb.
How to receive with grace:
it’s one of the first things taught
and the last we really learn.
In the end, I gave
half of the berries away again,
unable to keep them all
without dying of gladness.
On a morning when I absolutely
must grade about twenty papers,
they swarm the house, screeching,
fill the trees as much with
song as body, if not more.
Windows closed, I still
hear them coming,
go out to look and am
pummeled by acorns.
The birds rattle the oak,
swoop across the road to clothe
the naked trees around the pond,
black leaves rearranging themselves
on the branches. So I watch.
Each bird, as it flies off,
is replaced by another;
it takes about half an hour
for the whole flock
to pass. Thirty precious minutes,
and knowing how early
night comes in November,
it’s worth every one.
The body is wise.
It knows where it is,
remembers the exact
number of steps and
precise angle required
to reach the door,
length of the hall and
feel of just inaudible slack
in the third to last step down.
It knows, too, what it wants,
though you guess all day
and fail to feed it:
leaf, meat, sex, wine…
None of these, in the end,
matters, which is why you
find yourself, at three a.m.,
kneeling by the edge of the lake,
reaching one hand beneath the surface
and trailing it
across the water,
as you’ve done in the air
outside the car window,
as you would in the door
to another world.
These poems will be posted when the author provides them.
Few things linger twenty years later:
rolls of quarters in his nightstand drawer,
the polyester ties my mother can’t
give away, the woodpile – stacks of beech
bleached bone-grey after years
of oyster mushrooms and inattention,
a fitting home base when heroes had names
like Oil Can and Catfish and Mookie.
I drive home now after a long night and it
sits there, 50 or 60 hand-chopped logs
as if he knew there’d be many winters
without him. Tonight is cold
like the craters on the moon,
the shadows we never discover –
but I read in the paper we’ve launched
a lunar orbiter to map and measure
its surface. I stand in the dark grass
peeling the bark of a log
with my laborless hands,
with my fingers tracing its rings.
After Sputnik, after Khrushchev
after Sing Sing and Bikini
after postwar homes had bunkers
and children desks,
the men came to a hill in Livingston
to hold vigil over the skyline
and test the atmosphere for war.
It was one point on the semicircle –
a last line of defense in case
the Russians attacked by air,
a locus to physicists who knew
about trajectory and energy,
the circumference of the earth
and at what velocity it revolved.
From Riker Hill, they could see
the distant flecks of energy,
New York a corona, always rising
with the uneasiness of a new day.
This is where we came years later
to feel invincible and irradiate
our frailties with Everclear.
This was after Gorbachev now
after glasnost and Chernobyl,
the abandoned barracks now
covered with graffiti to pay tribute
to some loner who halted
his trajectory with heroin.
They’d spray-painted over
“Death to Soviets”
so it said, “Death. So be it.”
My friends and I passed the grain
alcohol playing never have I ever
and would you rather, taking dares,
telling truths that were lies.
Didi rode the rocket launcher
like a mechanical bull, swaying
on the rusty hinges and 190 proof
before sneaking into the radar room
with a guy she knew.
The rest of us got loaded
on the concrete pad.
From here, we felt the surface of things.
What had we lost yet
but what we hadn’t earned?
Confidence, hard choices, real fear
the knowledge of our vulnerabilities,
I guess, or am I trying too hard to make it
more than it was? It was stupid.
It was the end of a millennium.
We knew that we should celebrate.
We were ballistic with our hearts.
Perhaps we knew we’d never be
together again and that’s all it was.
It wasn’t until years later that
I knew the velocity of an object falling
in space, that I knew about intercepting
and about being intercepted,
the unpredictable inertia of loss,
that the heart hits the ground
at precisely 90 miles an hour.
This was before Putin before Chechnya.
This was before I thought I accepted
that atoms and nations and couples split
and found out that I didn’t
and that I still don’t.
Dora Fedora, stop looking at your feet,
shut your beak, your legs are too weak.
You are flamingo, you are flamenco.
You are a phoenix rising from ashes.
So way up tall, girls, sur les pointes.
Flamingo cotillion, one-two-three.
Left leg up arabesque and tuck.
Dora Fedora, don’t wobble so much.
Wings outstretched like sails.
Look at those feathers, dreadful gules.
Some of you are eating too much algae.
Dora Fedora, keep that leg tucked.
This is curtsey, how you nab men.
Lift your leg, spread your wings.
Invite him to your aqua-boudoir.
You’ll get it when you’re older,
thank me for flair and gusto.
Dora Fedora, you have it all wrong.
You’re swaying hold your wing
now let me no you’re going to —
Poor Dora Fedora, Dora Fedora,
Is your eye bigger than your brain?
Know what happens when flamingos fail?
That’s right — lawn ornaments,
shipped to Michigan, no less,
where there are no flamingos,
just gulls and loons.
When the man died,
The woman’s pronouns refused shifting:
We have hibiscus in our flower beds.
Come see us soon.
The man still spoke to her, she said, told her
Don’t rush into anything.
When the two of them were first in love,
He stole away from the base one night
And came drumming at the window,
A surprise before he shipped out.
Then France. The war on the far side of the Atlantic.
Though I never knew them this way,
The man dizzy with passion and
The woman stammering for the mail,
I like the thought of that young pair
And their affections, the letters passed
Between them over sixteen months.
And even how each day would have carried with it
The possibility of defeat.
Would have demanded faith.
Consider how much transpires
Between two people in sixty years.
How the body shakes off habits,
Collects them, too,
Reluctantly and without awareness.
How loss is a sleepy, heavy thing,
Cumbersome as new words,
Unhurried as letters crossing a wide sea.
Strange, I know, to feel selfish at a time like this,
To learn the news of two divorces—good friends
Who’ve parted ways with the men they loved once,
To map new territories, veer off in different
Norths and wests—and to feel mostly indignation,
But that same month you and I married,
We drove north to a wedding on the shore of a lake,
Witnessed the vows of friends there.
And other friends, too, married in Pennsylvania,
That day. This past September, both wives left.
So here is my disappointment, pale gray, real as a fish.
I admit I feel betrayed over this.
And here, too, is the sureness of our vulnerability,
Disquieting and cruel, like crows circling
A sparrow hawk.
We say that only the couple knows what goes on in a marriage.
That there are always two sides to every story.
But it’s more that there are two stories, turning,
Spinning away from each other. Wanting different
Occasions, different characters, different endings.
Still, I want to know: how does a marriage come to this
Denouement—the packing of forks and old textbooks,
The moving out and on, the changing back of surnames?
Is it something that can be sensed, spotted way out,
Like a late-August storm? Or maybe it’s much more sudden.
These are the distressing truths: The body
Has its kingdom of wants. The heart
Can be treacherous as spring.
There are beautiful and remarkable people all around us.
And choices and things to give up.
We are five years into this.
I believe you and believe in you still.
And the years will gutter past, untenable, too quick for us
To name. One day, we will face real hardships
And real loss. But each April, the forsythia spin bright yellow,
Just when you turn another year older,
And we remain one flesh.
This much I understand: there can be no drifting here,
Just the calculated steering of heart and body, both
Willful as ships, one no worse than the other.
There is no charted route. It’s the both of us,
Feeling our way through the empire.
For those mourning,
It must have been like when Lazarus came faltering
From the tomb, white as magnolia and smelling of earth,
When the girl was found alive,
Ten miles from the bright shores
Of the Comoros.
Disbelief could no longer be called disbelief;
Truth, no longer truth.
After all, the plane had gone down
So far from shore.
And there were no survivors.
And after all, how could she have endured
That unthinkable plunge to earth,
From so many miles up? And so many hours
In the water. And yet, the headlines said:
Girl plucked from the sea.
Imagine that young body waking:
The white hum of the hospital,
The weight of the sea still with her.
But think also of those who loved her,
Having to end their grief
With such suddenness, and such sureness,
As grief is not meant to end.
Like those two sisters in Bethany, who,
After the burial, the whole cobweb of regrets,
Had to rejoice, take hold
Of the flesh of one lost, and believe,
As if the heart could ever manage
Look closer. The buds
have flooded with the blue to come,
and the grass itches with promise—
each blade, shaken, slurs its note
beneath the thoughtless grinding
of the spheres
(or music, as it is said)—
yes, the weeds are sick-green with all that is to come.
Only listen to the wind-bent spruce,
the moan of trucks,
the spruce cones falling.
That is how much the world loves you.
But sit on stone steps. In sun.
Near lamps that do not yet need
to be lit. That is how much
you can be loved.
The wind on a soy field
does not love the soy,
but moves it,
such that a viewer might say,
You can be that viewer. You can try
to be the cloud that lets go its shadow
on a green hill.
Weeks of swelter, weeks without a breeze on Allison
Street. We came out from under our shadows. Cars
yawned by on cratered Chester Avenue. The too close
sun leaned in as though trying to hear our secrets: T’s
pops strung out and hustling on the corner, Lamont’s
kid sister blowing older guys in the alley behind her
house. Sherry, from across the street, asking me to
pull it out, wanting to see “what a white one looked like.”
The pigeons peered down from their too high roofs.
Old people sat on porches, mouths open to the heat
like lizards on rocks. Drunk Mr. Ant (the fired fireman)
had the wrench nobody else had. An ocean trapped
in a bottle rushed out. We leaped and danced in
the gutters, our glistening skins barely decipherable
in the water-lit sunlight. I found Sherry; she found
me. We pulled each other close, holding on tight,
the deluge all around unable to shove us apart.
Yesterday, Jimmy told me that Barb's cancer was back.
He came over half-drunk with his face in his hands
asking why. Now, I’m by myself on this stoop. It’s hot,
night having fallen. The Chun kid is playing his violin
next door, the music a dream on the urban wind.
His father is a sour SOB, but he's a man like any other,
so I try not to hate him. Barb's cancer is spreading
through her like termites. I told Jimmy this comparison
over a bottle of Jim Beam. Both of us being carpenters,
we allowed it to make sense. When they found out,
Jimmy drove her home from Jefferson Hospital
in a downpour. It rained all day into the next. The drunker
we got, the more he brought that up, how he never
thought two fucks about the moon before but couldn't
think about anything but the lack of one that night.
Barb will be dead in a year or less. It's been decided.
Jimmy prays it isn't true. I hope his prayer is heard.
Isn't it about time that something listens? I don't know
what Jimmy will do. He met Barb in the tenth grade.
He's never been with anyone else. I'll go over and see
Jimmy and Barb before she gets too bad, and we can
have one of those nights together like we used to have,
them kissing and pawing at each other as I look on.
Jimmy will ask if I want another, and Barb will turn to me
and say, “It’s been three years since Miriam. Isn't it about
time you got off your rump and found some happiness?”
Jean came over conniptioning about Hoot again. Gone
and knocked up some girl on Palmer. Third girl in two years?
I can't help but laugh because I guarantee that boy didn't
so much as get to second base before coming back from his first
tour, sun scorched and wavy haired. You remember him
from before? Couldn't speak a word around the girls, spending
all his time in his room playing video games. Jean was always
hollering about that, too. Wouldn't shut up about how lazy he was,
and how he might be a homo. “So what if he is,” I'd say. “Least
he ain't cutting school or pushing drugs.” She didn't like that.
When he graduated from Holy Redeemer and told her he was
joining the marines, she lit up brighter than Mr. McFadden's
house at Christmas. “You'll learn to be a real man,” she told him.
Jean always was a fool. Now, he's running around being as a real
a man as he can be. Showing off that long scar across his chest,
telling them girls how they are the dream that kept him going
through all those desert nights. “Well, at least you know
he's not homo.” She about spit when I told her that.
Frannie told me it was Angela Spataro. Her and Hoot scaled
the Palmer Cemetery fence one night and screwed behind the stone
angel of that private who froze at Valley Forge. Abimael Smith
was one of the first they buried there, interred when he was
seventeen. He went off with his father to meet the British
at Brandywine. When the colonials retreated, he never saw his
father again. The boy died early in the winter, and they couldn't
bury him until May. Can you imagine his mother dozing on her
porch, the bees whirring above the lilacs, finches chattering
in the elms; woken by the soldiers riding up in their pointy hats
and black boots? Probably looked like over-sized children with
their naked faces and squeaky voices. Apparently Abimael's
become a kind of rite of passage for these neighborhood
boys. Sweet talk a girl to his angel, see how far you can take
it. Father Martin had a meeting about it in the basement
at Holy Name, calling it “the most vile thing to happen to that long
deceased boy.” I for can think of several worse things to befall poor
Abimeal before he fell into the confines of his eternal sleep.
No, I don't put that TV on anymore. You try to ignore the blood
then feel stupid about worrying over who will win American Idol.
That doesn't make me superior, just exhausted, like the Romans
must have felt when they let the Christians take away their
gladiators. I try to stay busy in the garden. Trimming the roses
and keeping the bees happy. I pull the weeds, even though
I know they'll be there again in a few days. Sometimes, I'll put on
NPR, just to have something to listen to when I sit with a cold
one in the sun. There's the hum of hundreds of air conditioners
and kids calling to each other in the streets beyond the alley.
I think of Jerry. (Could it already be six years since they put him
away?) I haven't visited him in the state pen once. He was
a mischievous kid, but sweet. Always sweeping stoops for old
ladies. And that's how I want to remember him. On NPR,
they interviewed this man from Africa. Half the continent is at war.
They've taken to killing the mothers and carrying off the boys,
some no older than ten. They starve them awhile, then give
them AK 47s. Doesn't take much, does it, to turn them into death?
Hoot may be something of a sperm bank, but at least he's not
coming back short an arm from Iraq like Ray, Alice's youngest.
Remember what a kidder he was? Now he just sits on his
stoop staring out at the houses and the people like he'd just
been dropped off from Mars. Alice's newest boyfriend fought
with him in the street the other day, had him by the throat,
the whole time Ray laughing and singing “The Battle Hymn
of the Marines.” You know how it goes: From the halls of
Montezuma/to the shores of Tripoli. Remember how he and Jerry
would stuff themselves to sickness with my homemade fudge?
I took some over to Alice after the fight, hoping it might help
bring Ray back a little. “I'm afraid he's going to kill himself
or somebody else,” she said to me. There's a willow in that cemetery,
it's leaves hanging down its trunk like a mess of wild hair. Hopefully,
Hoot had enough good sense to take the girl there afterwards.
I'll tell you, all we expect from these boys, everything we always
expected, it's a wonder they still manage to feel anything at all.
In the observation car, two women map out the architecture of knitting,
their pens scratching rough blueprints on the railroad napkins,
detailed plans for cities made of looped and hooked yarn.
The backyards, embroidered with sweet corn and summer squash, hang like curtains in the windows,
their dull fences sliding past like billboards for a new life,
and the train hacks through the landscape, a knife plunged into a painting.
A man tells me he has mountain man in his bloodlines.
I keep reading my book.
His father had been killed by the Mojaves at a gas station in the desert, he says,
blood mixed with the Exxon-sign light.
This was when the digital cities were pixilating the hillsides
and when tangles of rebar and coarse beard steel
were accumulating with the hardcore kids in vacant lots.
Infrastructure forked and ran through the deep-carved valleys,
and the newer El Cerrito Indians fortified themselves
in the brambles and the stands of Eucalyptus,
rowed dead-tire canoes along the interstate’s exits.
It was that time in our history that I think no one quite remembers,
when old mailboxes were knocked off their wooden posts
by yelping kids with Schwinn Continentals and baseball bats.
The chronology of everything is jumbled and tossed after a while.
Former governors trade graves,
and the capitol rebuilds itself three miles over.
One thing I can say is that when the pioneers spilled over the mountains
and came ripping through the foliage,
well, they were probably pretty surprised
to see Oakland’s hills like loaves of rising bread.
The camera flash draped over Milwaukee’s number one citizen, the light hanging from the complex geology of his face.
He was like a statue, I remember her saying, or a mountain. Something immovable,
pressed into future textbooks next to etchings of The Great Thinkers.
Our cameras kept splashing him with light, and he kept looking past us. Like Magellan,
as if the municipal building behind us was some new frontier.
He mentioned squash tournaments with the committee
and long games of chess with former mayors, which he described like medieval history,
giving rich lineages to the kings and queens
and weaving plot through the pieces.
He looked older than I had imagined, and the light poured into the creases in his skin,
hardening, like a metal cast, into photographs.
And I’m not sure if I can explain how it felt
to be documenting the architecture of a minor historical figure’s face,
but if you have ever seen the plotted points of a bulldozer graphed in a chain-link fence
or watered a fern for weeks before realizing it’s fronds were made of cloth,
Then I’m pretty sure you know what I’m talking about.
Someone had been throwing weather onto the city.
Today it was hail, and all your old boyfriends
and the new one
had congregated in the Tattered Bible Room to wait for me.
They passed around 64 fl. oz. of water,
gulping and exhaling so roughly and exaggerated
that it made me, I think, visibly uncomfortable.
Most of them were there because I had mispronounced their names
On purpose, they said, but how could they prove it.
A trial was held by Michael Something
and Tall Guy Nos.1 and 2,
And it was only when I got up to speak
that I noticed you in the back
on the Pacific Bell payphone
and was horrified to find you with new bangs,
pearl earrings, smiling with teeth like glazed tile and your lips,
to find that you looked so beautiful again
in the damp, judicial light.
I watch the horse
my son is riding
glide into gallop. Forward,
around: the proud, cratered
nose, serrated mane,
coat like black water.
Up! Down! my son calls, giddy,
holding the stake
driven through its body.
In the bed beside yours, the child is so small
he could fit in a lady’s purse, a shoebox.
He smiles but doesn’t say anything at all.
You fall in love with him, wake up calling
Baby! Baby! pull our curtain back, knock
the reeds of his crib. The child is so small
he barely sees you, or the picture on the wall
you drew for him, of rain and broken robots.
He smiles but doesn’t say anything at all.
He’s one year old, cannot roll or crawl,
and floats alone all day while we play and talk.
The room around us is so small.
When his mother comes, she is beautiful,
her dark hair a sail, her face made of knots.
She smiles but doesn’t say anything at all
as we sit, holding our sons until they fall
asleep. Then she goes, the room closing like water
after a passing boat. The child is so small.
He smiles but doesn’t say anything at all.
The tiny boy has a twin brother at home.
“Nothing the matter with him,” his mother says.
The brother walks and plays. This boy lies alone.
You are our only child. Yet somehow I know
what she means, what I almost pray:
you, too, have a twin, a brother at home
who never hurts, was not broken,
pierced by wires and bandaged again.
That boy walks and plays. He stays alone
while we live here. He grows cold
in those empty rooms, as the daylight fades.
I’m afraid he’s dying. But if we get home
he’ll be waiting in the dent on your pillow.
He’ll whisper in your ear, shake you awake
until you walk and play. It’s a lie we come alone
into this world. For every crooked bone
there’s a straight bone, for every face, another face;
and in this suffering place we now call home
is a boy who walks and plays while he lies alone.
I held the crepe skin of her hand
in my hand. I told her I loved her.
The ventilator buzzed, hissed, and beeped.
The sky outside was gray. It was November.
I held the crepe skin of her hand,
I told her it was snowing. I told her it was cold.
I told her about my job, my apartment.
The ventilator buzzed, hissed, and beeped.
I held the crepe skin of her hand,
delicate as onion, and damp
As the ventilator buzzed, hissed, and beeped.
A young nurse removed her breathing tube.
The sky outside was gray. It was getting dark.
She labored to breathe while
I held the crepe skin of her hand.
I told her it was cold.
I told her I loved her,
that it was November.
I told her it was snowing.
She labored to breathe while
her body buzzed and hissed and the sky
outside was getting dark. It was
damp. I held the gray sky in my hand.
It was cold. It was November. Her face
was getting dark. I told her
I loved her. I held her crepe hand
until her movement stopped.
I held it until dark.
When you found me, I
was an old house left untended. I was
cluttered with autumn leaves,
my gutters clogged with rot.
I was leaning against a wind
that no longer blew. It was
a matter of time before I fell.
I had nowhere else to go
but down. The weight of gravity
is nothing like the weight of despair.
What did you do? You
placed a warm hand against
my back. The leaves caught fire.
And water streamed down my face.
I fought the urge to lean on you.
And when you stepped aside, I
was able to stand. I was
near you, not because of you.
We’ve been neighbors like this
The island we’re on disappears between two hands
cupping it away from the light.
Streetlamps point into the night, sewing their glow
into velvet. There are no stars.
I walk with you two by two on narrow cement.
We pop into shops open this late
and I touch postcards, bracelets, sculptures,
soaps. I reach for your hand
and know that it is mine. The bright false shine
from store windows barely
crosses the street. Beyond I hear the ocean roar
against the sand,
my only proof that it exists. We move away
from town, our feet
tattooed with night’s black ink until
we wade hip-height
out of light. Hibiscus along the way gape,
their tongues stuck out
like children hoping for snow. Their scent
distracts our breath—
for a moment, cloaked out of sight, you
until our hands brush and connect. We are
not two when we
respect our bodies’ limitations. To be
each other but still
ourselves. To be one thing and not
Lit in the mind-gap
between rosemary gathered
in mid-winter dusk
and fat slinking the pan,
between baskets of linen
slumped on the floor
and the old metal horse
bridled with clothes;
a small flame gasps,
wrestles to hold its form beneath
the breath blowing across it
and the thoughts clouding in,
as the heat that welds the wick
to a sharp eye flares,
and twisting columns
of blue and white dislodge
the tiny silver mouse-trap ball
chiming the music in.
Hair-lock, peppercorn, fishtail, glass
finger-nail, cradle-cap, seed …
my black-bristled drag charms
an intimate flurry of slivers and scraps
from the room’s outline – our human
residue of death, devotion, need -
and now she, in her bells and her beads
mimics me, observes the household work
of harnessing the fallen and dispersed
back into her body’s vortex, as daylight
pearls on her face, and on the full milk moon.
As light is lowered into the earth
holding by crimson threads to the rim
of heart-heavy hills,
floating on the bruised skin of the eye
when the weary lid descends;
I skim the dusk beyond this bloodshot glass
for words to wrap you in,
full gold moons to close your eyes
as an echo bears the husk
of a church bell’s toll -
remembering all that is lost
while naming this:
the life still yours to name.
I am a summer mostly
though I can wear aqua and apricot
warm colors colors handed over to spring.
So I am early summer perhaps
specifically the summer after fifth grade
specifically the morning I rose early
for no reason the one time
I can remember not tired not wishing
the day would wait up
or just go ahead without me.
The light was cool. The mountains were
just a little pink. I remembered
my new toy, a glorified
stick and string. Dipped in watered-down dish soap
and waved in the air, the Bubble Thing
promised giant bubbles but hadn’t worked
the afternoon before. The dry heat
punctured the soapy film before it could
round into anything. But now
in the early morning I made bubbles
half as big as me. They rose
wobbly over the fence
into the neighbor’s yard,
across the boulevard just beginning
to busy itself.
Summer, dress me in lemon yellow powder blue dusty pink.
I want to wear that
one clear morning
when something impossibly large
lifts into the air, and stretches
and bends in the soft light.
Note: Color Me Beautiful, published in 1980, claimed that women
would look their best dressed in one of four color palettes,
corresponding to the four seasons.
Amongst the cactus ribs and blue palo verde
stir prismatic beetles––emerald siblings whose childhood
amusements spangle the breeze with beads
of laughter, which slowly rise, as if to evaporate from the barren
landscape of our recent loss. But not yet evaporated––the beads still
forming flocks of necklaces across the open indigo sky.
We have waited for this moment of everyday opulence
to guide us through the persistent yet shallow stabs
of the saguaro-studded mountain. Now, the necklaces shift
into chandeliers, lighting our hike; a ballroom gifted,
someone commanding us to dance, the wrens providing music
as we slowly ascend the earthen palace hallway.
Something was born of drought here, from this vegetation
determined to survive. The cactus ribs slowly fill with green,
the color spreading up the mountain toward us, not like fire,
but like a shared memory peeling back a cloud, revealing sun.
in memory of Billie Lou Rivers
Perhaps the ruby-throats have returned
for her delicate glance through panes,
a look that once caught bubbles of air
as they rose through sugar waters.
At what residence have they arrived––
empty and filled with casseroles,
slaws, and cakes. There is fresh fruit
from the orchard of my childhood.
Ruby-throats, you have watched her palms
guide mine in the kitchen
with their thin, papery knowledge
of hardship and nourishment.
I am surrounded by food and am not hungry.
The feeders are empty, little birds. Sweet sparkles
on the stovetop. Ice is necessary to bear this kind of heat.
Come to this window, drink from this hand.
When we swam to the bottom of the pond
and there were no fish, we grabbed
wet and leaking handfuls of dirt instead––cold
dripping off our elbows.
In science we had learned about diatoms
and their thin shells
of glass, how each body
of freshwater contains them. Squinting
was useless; they were microscopic.
But in our handfuls of murk,
we found water bugs, weeds, dragonfly
wings. At the edge
of the old dock, we left
the shining mud in the sunlight,
warmth rising around it like heat off
a backyard grill. I don’t remember how long
it took for the wet clod
to crack dry. I do remember
the dragonfly wings crumbled to iridescent
flakes, then a breeze we welcomed:
so much glistening in the air: so many
wings finally taking flight.
We come to with our beds dancing themselves
across the floor, the city shaking itself again,
trying to wake from another bad dream.
Then a chorus of car alarms and we rush to windows
where we watch each other mirror back a look
of disbelief. We straighten picture frames,
sweep up the remains of the bric-a-brac pony
that rode too near the edge. After disaster,
a city rebuilds on the bedrock of myth.
While brick and mortar give, legend holds
that right after the great quake swept this town
with a broom of fire, the great Caruso stood
at the blown-out window of his hotel suite and sang
over the ruins below. Those in the street fed off
the comfort that can only be found in the sound
of someone else's voice. But Caruso was just testing
himself, to see if he could still scale those notes.
The truth is often nothing more than a consolation
prize. In the morning, we’ll surround ourselves
with words—foreshock, magnitude—
but what we want is company.
Do the close calls ever bring us any closer?
The distance between us seems fixed, greater than
that of hypocenter to epicenter, the first act
to the fourth. Even disaster has a dress rehearsal.
In the meantime, we kill the lights, strike the set,
watch each other’s silhouettes, still we do not wave.
You come in the house
smelling of corn silk and the dirt-
skin of tomatoes.
Every thing sits up straight
in the last minutes of light,
the Bibb lettuce you bring
greener than green,
the Early Girls in your arms
a red that is all here and now.
Even from across the room
we are together in ways
I never imagined:
I slice onions the same
wrong way my mother taught me
twenty years ago,
and you laugh your father's laugh.
How many people are with us
in this house?
For dessert we have wide smiles
on the porch swing—half slices
of watermelon sprinkled with salt.
Between bites, we try to see
who can spit the seeds
the farthest, watching those
black eyes scatter;
it's hard to tell who’s winning
in what little light remains.
At the all night Wash-N-Dry, in the steamed up windows
of Speed Queen dryers, I watch the reflection of a woman
as she folds her clothes and I count quarters.
She snaps an oxford in the scented air like a flag
and it falls to the table where her hands lead each button
to its hole, and she folds the shirt into a perfect rectangle.
The TV in the corner goes on with more reports of war,
but the woman just grabs another shirt and begins again.
I watch her smooth one sleeve, then the next, bending
them back, pressing them flat. She lays the finished shirt
on top of the first as the anchor relays the days of combat,
the number of dead; and we are not surprised
or shocked or anything but business. Then I see her
kiss the palm of her hand and lay it on the collar of a shirt
that belongs to someone she must love.
What we have done to one another should keep us
all awake. Indeed, here we are in the middle of the night
doing wash, but suddenly there is a way,
even under these fluorescent lights and in the company
of bleach and strangers, to make each room an altar,
every task a ritual, a way to speak a prayer with hands,
to fold a shirt until it becomes a note for a beloved.
These simple acts are the best of us—let us be thankful
for them and the work our hands can do.
Somewhere in this resounding bone
an ocean’s held: the boundless geography
of currents and love. Against this lived
knuckle of thought, the fluid epic of its loss,
up rose a mutinous squid: a many-armed
darkness. Cold’s flensing knife was a steady
stroke down your long side. How to imagine
the abyss through which you moved:
a sonic chamber alive with squeaks
and booms, soft whistles, the tender clink
of anchor chain, transmission loops,
a slow dissolve of ice. Shipwrecked
on an ocean liner’s steady-throated thrum,
you were found on sand: collapsing
under your own weight. But this won’t be
what your dying synapses recall
on an outrunning tide as you lie washed
by bucketfuls of moonlight. It will be
the deliberate and barnacled travelling
up stratified layers of cold-crusted water,
through deep columns of krill
and algae bloom, into those glowing fields
of phosphorescence until you enter
the blue’s warm hold —
that soundless rupture.
It is not the delicate detail, for the cast is too crude
for that: this girl’s face obliterated by weeping plaster,
a man’s extremities reduced to rounded stumps. It is
the large arrested gesture that tells these bodies, saying:
So this is the shape of death. Familiar lovers fastened
on a stone bed (whereas life might have ripped them apart),
a dog’s high-pitched contortion, an entire family sleeping,
the baby rolled absently from its mother.
Unburied, they weigh more than bone ever could.
They have shaken off the ash and refuse to rest. So many
stopped limbs. Mouth holes, eye holes, a balled fist.
But in the end this is what halts you: how a young woman sits
with her knees drawn up to her chest, hands covering eyes,
how a child’s body folds, alone at the final moment —
and a man rises from his bed, as if waking for the first time.
Avoid windows, those blank places
light falls through.
Tilt its tiny axis:
watch where fire travels
Bring it into natural light.
See inclusions as scratches
on a cornea. Decide if you can live
with those birthmarks.
Become versed in blues:
cornflower, royal, inky and Ceylon.
Then abandon yourself
to the myriad
shades with no name.
But don’t confuse darkness with depth.
clarity isn’t everything.
Nor will any index or scale help you:
this is an exercise
in self-trust, a match
of heart and eye.
So when faced with row
upon row of blue stones
let the slow fingertips
of your eyes
travel over their loose braille.
Take your time in choosing.
And if all this
is too much, remember one rule:
gaze in, not at.
Go deep into the cathedral.
And when you think
you have found
the stone you can live with
pick it up
with the instrument
like a small silver spider
crouched at its end —
look into that rapturous eye.
Whatever became of the wooden bowl
I’d use to gather herbs from the garden?
It was light
and always to hand
and its shape held the cuttings in, but loosely
like a plate, so that—
working in the kitchen—
I could take out just the sprig I wanted.
It was always to hand,
and then it wasn’t.
Like the bus line that changed.
Like the tree that came down.
Like the linen blouse perfect for every occasion
until the fuchsia branch caught
in its shoulder, and it was ruined.
I’d kept it for years, meaning
to make a copy
and now I can’t find it anywhere.
I am so lucky
to have you, still,
and to be able to fall in love with things so easily.
This morning I blew up the coffee grinder.
It was our anniversary
and I was to attend a late-morning meeting close
to home, but far
enough from work, there was no sense to go in first.
And rather than water
the garden, which badly needed watering, but which could just as well
wait for evening,
I asked if you’d like another cup of coffee, and you said
“only if you’ll have one too”
which was the whole point of my asking
so I filled the kettle, and yanked on the coffee grinder
which was my grandfather’s—excellent motor and snug-fitting lid
and cord so doubled-back on itself it really needed to be unwound
but I was anxious to get moving on this cup of coffee and to climb up into your lap
with a bite of last night’s flaky pastry smothered in half-jammed tangy plum—
so I gave it a good yank—
and it separated from its cord, showering like a sunflower exploding into bloom
and you cried out
and I said “It’s ok”—thinking your concern was over the potential for fire,
and then “I’m ok, I’m ok”
and you came to hold me
and you removed the live cord
and you reset the fuse
and you assured me that the grinder could be fixed.
So I got out
the secondary grinder,
the one I use for almonds.
And while the coffee dripped
we emptied the dishwasher
together, and it went so quickly
that way, with two of us,
as if the complexity of our thing-laden lives
really took up no space at all,
as if eleven years might just as easily be described by any single moment.
I don’t believe in above and below.
Only the sparrow call and chicken cluck
that move like curtains in the fog
and light of morning. The hearth and the bread,
the racket and the laughter. Frustration,
change, diligence, and desire.
I treasure the dimensionless lack of light,
the cold and the wet, the stone and the black.
Kisses, silence, endlessness,
satisfaction. And the birdcall, and the light
that returns to everyone, and from all directions.
Every bird is a sister of mine—can you believe
I never saw horses running
before I came to this island,
and nothing but their own good sense keeps them
from falling into the ocean?
At the edge of your country
along traintracks that run from Devon
to Cornwall, someone
set up a howl and it’s been going
longer than we remember,
or our mothers
remember, or their mothers.
Where else could a woman turn
into flowering rosebush? All
so peripheral, the crooked edges maps show—
the limit is sensate here
where I can never travel all night
and the next day—
what brings me is what bound you,
a piece of cloth in tatting thread and colors
I found here—loosestrife, sorrel, the guelder rose,
wood anemone—a tapestry
barring girlhood to one
field, long stripe of a neighbor’s plow turning
land just over the woven branches: earth
The sandwich cart rattles by, you stack
cups on a tray. Meanwhile, unobstrusively, the air
diffuses particles, the sky is pinked.
This earth. This shining in the sea.
It sweetens everything.
This small movement: fingertips from chord to chord.
How his head ducks when he moves to kiss your neck.
Porte Saint-Ouen, the first heady rush of cars, grey lifting off the city.
If you have never been to Paris, go there
in November, wear a heavy scarf printed with shibori, wear
Walk along the Seine, past booksellers, souvenir
shops, women wearing red coats, and Notre Dame.
The RER through Saint-Denis.
Sitting across from him you will want to touch him.
You will hold your own hands back from touching him.
Leaves from plane trees yellow in the gutter.
In Montmartre, the same leaves yellow against sky.
Hand on the small of your back, through your jacket, subtle, burning.
Shape of the guitar case.
These things, you love them because you know what is inside.
...wrote the painter
Boy with a body like birds and umbrellas, full of unfurling,
I want to paint on the walls and have the paintings come alive for you.
What a cheerful body you have. That's why I imagine rhesus monkeys
and bougainvillea and trumpet flowers and fig trees
growing everywhere around you, plant and paint and chalk. Yellow
walls and pink walls, a courtyard, an elderly
chair with gold velvet cushions rubbing away
like the fur around a dog's muzzle when she gets old. Overhanging
boughs from untrimmed yew. Your skin is the morning and it stretches
all over you, not one bone breaking through—all
uncaged and springing from. A blue house with white rafters.
A bridge between what was always wild and what will so become.
A wreath of gardenias and lilies, red roses, peonies.
A wreath of thorns and hummingbirds and models of my hands.
Because I imagined
there was a night under the stars
when I became distrustful
And felt myself ready
to move off by some force,
foreign and luring,
toward the uncontained universe.
I’m so sorry Tia,
about your brother.
Maybe he also imagined
in the shallow
pond. I can see myself,
considering the dive,
water cooling my
ankles, so passive and lenient
that it would just follow me
make an opening in
the ground for me.
I hear that tap dancers have a move
called the buffalo. It sounds exactly
as it sounds: buff-a-lo: soft-toed shoes
over tiny pebbles of sand, the drag
and punch, the smooth scratch
like an old record heard through old
speakers until the sand’s spread too thin
and the music stops sounding old
and starts sounding too old.
What I don’t know: where it says that dance
steps must have names reflective
of their movements. But, like a live shell
leaving a launch-tube on the Fourth of July—
wait, it’s not like that at all. It’s something
harder to pin down, maybe fireworks
on a November evening that linger in the cold air,
the colors that stick to the stars like snow on the lens
of your camera, the tiny crystals dancing
as they melt to the warmth of your breath.
If we keep feeding the gods,
they’ll leave us to our sentiments,
or to some other irony: I’ve lusted,
coveted, drawn a map of my childhood.
What I missed: the route to school,
the stones we’d roll down the hill
behind the graveyard where an unnamed
person lay buried, always deer antlers
next to the headstone, bleached, white
like lightning on a moonless night,
heat lightning over a lake, and the lake
swallows it, and we’re back again
to what I missed: there was once,
there is no more. How we tell a story,
how we fold laundry, yell to each other
of our secular throats, our words without irony.
There’s something about sitting on the deck at twilight:
just visible in the half-shadows,
buzz more clearly, their pitch slightly lower now
that the drummed moon creeps above the tree-line.
I want to take up archery, hunt like my red-blooded
ancestors, or just feel
the tension in my fingers as I pull
back, take aim, and let the arrow go to the bats
hanging on the power lines, tucked against the fir trees,
their black, their peared bodies, their silence.
When you remember this April,
will it be with rain—light
on our hair, the way cut grass sticks
and folds into the cuffs of our jeans?
We hardly talk about the past,
but when we do, it seems our memories
have taken the same shape.
I haven’t seen you since Christmas. We meet
at this small, brass plate and wonder
at the mechanics of it, how so many dead
could fit into a single span of earth. New immigrants
with money enough for one name
on a marker, the others remembered
only on paper—a torn list of names and dates
unearthed from the gatehouse files.
We come here to know family we’ve only
heard about, our first time in Brooklyn,
but I wonder if you also inhabited
this city the way I did, through grandmother’s
stories, how I sat on the stoop
of that brownstone, watching the great aunts as
girls come up the twilight street
pale as angels in their summer dresses.
You are my brother, and when people ask
if we are close, I don’t know how
to answer. I can’t name your greatest
fears. I don’t know if you’ve ever
been in love. But we share this small
revelation of our past.
We have nothing to leave here.
We read the names of our ancestors
aloud—Agnes Henry, James Brennan—
a feeble benediction, and turn,
both, I think, noticing the way wet earth gives
beneath our shoes, the way when you go,
you carry some of it with you.
They are electric
in Iglesia San Dominique.
Sear of filament in glass:
tiny coal, a forty-watt
star. None of your cathedral
glitter, clutter of light
on the paving, this grid
of switches, little
circuit timed to twenty-nine
minutes and after, nothing
whiskered with soot. No remnant
but the afterburn, blue
on the dark globes
of your eyelids. Some
things in life are not meant
for such precision—The snug
dovetail of your joined hands.
The bent maple outside
my window, aflame
with leaf, its sheath
of frost. Flickered
approximation of star: that dark
voice, and our reciprocal
lights. Trace elements
in smoke, fine blue
strands that rise, streak
the marbled mouth of a saint.
Everywhere people are making love—
the upstairs neighbors whose bedsprings wake me.
The girl next door with the fat, Italian boyfriend
whose motorcycle does 90 in the desert.
The couple with an open window, late fall
when the days, perversely, keep warm.
I fish you up from the nothing of cyberspace,
Smoke off distant brush fires or dust
that rises some nights to gauze
the light from streetlamps
parody the fog we’d walk in.
East of the city the desert’s black teeth
break on the sky. Arroyos wanting.
I could get lost there, when no one knows
how far, which direction I’ve gone.
I’m running to meet you
in England, where rain makes its lace on us.
Your hand fits in my pocket,
exquisite object, those finely wrought bones.
You were married last August.
(An ocean at your back,
Gardenia, Ophelia’s white slippers. Someone
who won’t, I’m certain, assert
herself against you.
See, I stand outside your life
without touching, the woman beyond a lit window.
Star cluster, highway, web.
We speak in metaphor until the metaphor
disappears. In the desert
light is a knife.
A horse’s gallop becomes wings: flock of quail
thrumming out of the ocotillo’s tangle.
When it rains, the creosote
is the sweetness of all things beyond reach.
is a marsh, really: a shivering array
of grasses edged by a rivulet,
green in summer, iced over in winter.
Just past it, the shadowy forms
of defunct factories
smudge the horizon, their windows
shattered, or warped
as Roman glass. But it’s the grass
this morning that arrests:
every dark tuft of seed
at the crown of a reed
silent as it switches in the wind.
In the black and wheat-colored mesh
the wind creates swirls like
moire, the golden stalks crossing
and retreating over
the mud of the marsh floor.
Every head bows toward its neighbor,
which bows toward the next, and for once
the train pauses just beside
this bank of rushes so I can watch
the path the wind takes
across its face.
Your girlfriend wears her summer
dress and the music
is loud and you don’t care about the bruises
because this is being alive.
The chrysanthemums you picked are
one full day from collapse.
When she brings her mouth to yours
yes and yes and yes.
Because this is happiness
there is no evening
and in Father’s car
the alternator doesn’t fail
and the miles you would have had to walk
aren’t dark and fraught
with what you hope are birds.
It was then,
before business, housework, the catching of trains.
You wore the tinfoil crown, and uncertainty and light
conspired in joy.
This is not
a preamble for regret.
You take the small box from the nook
and blow off the dust.
Inside is the dime-store ring that the boy bought for you and the little plastic bubble that has held it all those years. Without thinking, you throw it away, the ring, the box, the dream, the whole thing called time—refused with the banana peels that cover the junk mail and the picture of the missing girl who looks like a million girls. You want the poem to end. You want the insight or the crush because what you have isn’t wholly here, and the names you give to it are approximate only. But the poem continues, asking Why trash what you love? And you can’t imagine
that there won’t always be another
and won’t the next one be about
at the curbside, opening garbage bags
beneath a streetlamp, just you
and the circling moths?
Behind the curtains,
a world. Behind the breast-
bone, a clock carefully wired.
I only wanted to be
perfect. Is that transgression
No, I also wanted you
in the light of the window seat
wearing the robe that falls
You who asked why I believe
I can turn from love and not be destroyed.
You who said my eyes—
it was autumn and is it not
possible to return?
Behind the shoulder blade,
a lung. Behind identity, a shard
These mountains are not mine.
Here even the dirt is red
and its bleached grass gleams.
You'd burn like this earth.
I drive across the shadow of a hawk.
Two sun-dazed cows gaze at me,
and I’m a cold pulse blinked
from eye to brain. Lines bloat like veins
on the surface of the hills,
and weeds unloose themselves from roots.
The sun takes my skin, the wind my lips,
and I take this road past the dam ahead.
This is proof of me, after you.
Grackles with hacking voices section
the street from the sky, like our bunk bed's
hotly defended jurisdictions.
Electric birds sing an intermittent song,
a crosswalk guide for the blind. On repeat,
your first word was my name.
A bird, a kind I've never seen, looks at me.
In memory, my first, I stand beside a white bed:
there you are.
Twelve renegade headstones
have been pushed by the wind
from their bases. These are their hips,
and the tombstones, their torsos.
The formerly elegant dead
emerge from forgotten plots
with legs still beneath the ground,
as if they were granite dancers stretching down
and groping for their toes.
These poems are not available for posting.
all over your supper
as if it were your mate—
with twin ditch-sprigs
of Queen Anne’s Lace,
or you can come over;
I’ve got yellow daisy,
fuzzy mum, a-fizz
in a jar on the sill,
with their buds blowsed out,
frazzled and juiced,
waiting for me to make
the move I never make
because my proboscis
only sips from books,
looking up “nectar”
(from the Greek
for “overcoming death”)
instead of tasting it.
Tiger, teacher, eater
of Eros, press me
in an encyclopedia
of thirsting ferns and leaves,
or pin me to a cocoon-wall
as if with an arrow
the next time I scrabble
for a word for “drink”
instead of drinking,
or lick a page-flipping thumb
instead of a body’s
Guide me through the nets
and myths of love
until like you I’m frowzed
with pollened splendor—
a flower vandal,
Psyche, a joy-vendor.
All praise to you, tricky cap, off the track
with a reckless bend and a crooked crack—
cup of ligaments a-spill, how unrecked
your work until the pop and shift which checked
your traverse and exposed your cartilage;
now you’re stiff, caged, my weak thighs’ hostage,
sidelined while others genuflect and kick.
But you still labor, though you grate and click,
though you balk on uphill walks, the staircase schlep,
though you crick my lumbar loose with every step.
All those knock-kneed years spent tripping over curbs—
if not you, who absorbed the pavement’s barbs?
And if you refuse to bow, who taught you that—
inflexible, not bending for squat?
My sesamoid, I know you’re fossilizing, late
to the ossuary. Only bear my weight
stooping to my grave, and I relinquish
you—prickling linchpin, shallow dish.
My love for you’s marked on a doctor’s chart.
You’re the one hinge as disjointed as my heart.
St. Luke the bull, bless my Taurean sweetie
who’s barely cracked a Bible, whose love
for owl and grackle, butterbeans and muscle car’s
incarnate, unproselytized, whose love
of my baptized page-white flesh
gasps and gospels, plunders
me like the words of Jesus—
behold he comes a thief in the night,
he sunders my tongue into a thousand
angels with a thousand thousand errands.
Greek ox, bullhorn, author of a doctored story,
tell my sugar of the bullish savior
dwelling in his blood and in his touch, O
put him out to pasture
a place where no news is good
or ill, no pews are empty—where no pews
exist to bench his joy, no messenger
to annunciate this thing not news
but newly enfleshed ever, magnificat.
after Elizabeth Bishop
Think of the sun nesting between hills
like a garter snake looking for a groove to curl into
at the edge of the road.
Eucalyptus shuffle their long leaves toward the heat
in tall families swaying,
rattling their dry pods.
And a hawk may dip its head,
unfold its muscled wings, make a slow survey
as the surrounding hillside gleams.
Below, our city streets and oak trees,
once fixed in lines, upturn themselves
in armfuls of dark gemstones.
Morning: the thoroughfare and its broken meters
with pansies where had been coins
are basking in the light, the smell of baking bread.
The fog burns away
in thinning, vaporous tendrils,
reclaimed again by the sea.
Someone is sleeping at the threshold of the library
downtown, or on a bench at the park;
think of him waking slowly, the sun brushing his leg.
Little unbegun, half-loaf rising,
sparrow northward and kicker south.
Lentil to grapefruit, you sleep-step sidewise,
turnover, pop-up, tongue in the mouth.
You, tenebrous. You’re clustered. One cell to another
you meet and divide. Nothing yet here to speak of,
the walls resounding—
as when we moved into
the new house: months of rearranging furniture.
And nights in winter, we heard the joints
crack like they would give; by morning,
a new seam coursed the paint, a doorframe
had opened its stitching. We busied
ourselves hemming curtains, nailing hooks.
Stacking plates and washing plates and stacking plates.
This is how it happens: patterns.
you’re breathing. One day all the books are on shelves
and we can pull them down by instinct. Rugs are laid out.
The walls quiet, warmed. It’s spring and surprising
shoots present themselves around the oak tree. Meanwhile
you, beating. You quiet, in draft form. You’re working.
Oh, we see some morning: daffodils.
Masters dreamt there into the stillness over
thriving roads their domes, as into the altar-
stone their chiselings. Past the scaffolds rising,
acres ground to pigment, to paint for palms turned
outward, haloes and wall-eyed spirits scaling
heaven—how surely the flocks would
still for it: their sight upsiphoned, their heads dipped
backwards into prayer, past tenet and toil,
pestled essence of the bestial field in bloom.
Masters offer little now to the assembled
silence: marbled regard, sepulchral Latin.
Therefore we reap this nascent evensong:
let artifice give answer, and grace be bright
in the hued and hewn, the things of their hands.
Perhaps throughout the absence of bells
into the river’s one inflection. Beyond blinds
drawn against the day, it loosens down,
in white flakes and in black, in yes and no.
Asleep, one might conceive of sounds its settling makes,
the echoes in bright silences
through which its benedictions drift like ash
out of summer’s noiseless burning. One knows
the vacant heights the towers keep, the streets
that arc into the river’s bends—and so?
One goes, a ringing in the ears receding,
down throughout the afternoon arcades
diffusing downward into ruins after.
This poem will be posted when the author provides it.
after C.D. Wright
One was always kicking a can
Or stepping on the hem of the other’s shadow
The pinker the sky the closer the weather
A swallowtail untied its apron
A baler lay on its elbows
One was falling in love while the other was leaving for art school
If one followed the fireworks and the flowering trees
If one fed him peaches from the bowl of her hips
Already one was seeing a girl in the next town
Or depositing secrets in a horse’s cupped ear
One waded into loneliness when the other filled it up
Even as one followed a new lover cross-country
The other was remembering it
Wetting the stamp of a see rock city sign
Upon returning one would feel lighter the other empty
One had found where the grass is greener
The other let her shirt fall open to the stars
Fireflies climbed like embers out of the valley
Trucks hauled the twilight somewhere else
I broke my heart across a meadow, a finch’s golden bib,
across the back of a mule and a damson tree. I waited
for it to split its seam, rain from a thunderous clap,
stars to crumble from the sky. I chucked it like a crabapple
against the barn. Heart, you no good son of a bitch.
Still, it would not detonate, would not flower.
I left it beneath the crunch of car tires, a wing
of dog-gnawed hide. I tried to impale it on a barb.
I was stalled, stumped, way past aching. My heart
was a fist, a pit, a thistle. I knelt in the tall grass
and was not swayed. I couldn’t drape my sorrow
over some new moon just to remember
its former roundness. Strew it across a wall like tack.
This field would not be hitched. I couldn’t lie down
in her chirp and whinny and come up weeping
like honeysuckle over a fence. All this time
and the barn hadn’t budged. Which is to say collapse
is imperceptible, so often corseted in sumac.
Whitley County, Indiana
Everything I’ve lost, this is where I’ll find it,
horse flies on manure, combines
stuttering wheat, every name that’s spoken
my own. I watch for green grubs,
parsley worms, sickles in the wheat,
my pining heart’s drift toward the grave
of Great Aunt Honey, who draws the magnolia’s
roots toward her, bone to wood, her blood
humming in my veins. So many
headstones with names I can’t remember,
moss sealing cracks in the dates.
From the sky’s blue simmer, darkness
startles a single glossy crow. It rises
like a syllable over fields between Peabody
and Tunker, Dunfee and Laud, the Eel River’s
slant toward the neighbor’s land, speechless
wax combs where bees shimmer,
tomatoes sweetening near the patch
where years ago I tripped on a rake, its scar
a mark of plenty. Now comes the urge
of damp soil: ferment, thorn, and hay.
August moves downwind, goldenrod
tossing pollen in a pale froth, leaning
at the fence break, just giving it away.
Today, I’m taking my father
for more tests, his eyes
failing even as we walk
out into the knee deep drifts.
Like his father before,
he takes two shovels from their hooks,
the particles of his hands
sewn somewhere in mine,
so much of him
silent in me as we walk
the bright hemorrhage of white.
He starts at one end,
I start the other, each scoop
unmaking the snow, which has taken
over porches, stoops, skeletal trees
hedging the road. Soon,
he won’t be able to make out the handle
he’s gripping. We don’t speak,
piling the crude heaps,
first him, then me, the black
grammar of railroad ties
announcing the perimeter.
The weatherman calls for more—
seven inches by nightfall—
but the old Chevy rattles
as I rev the engine,
my father leaning to scrape
the windshield clear of ice
until he’s certain I can see.
Wheat fields, white lines, everything
blurs – Hazelwood, Spring Grove, Clover
Dale fractured in the VW’s headlights.
Though the exit ramp promises
escape, the solid yellow line resists
the crossing over. Cornfields interrupt
the hard beauty of the gas pumps,
the gleaming Conocos of the heart-
land rising where road kill opens
to reveal what shines. Semis awaken
the muddied green, lumber hauled
from Terre Haute—walnut, black oak,
butternut and ash—the whole state
tied to the wheel in the vague landscape
of travel: a man in a red truck, a woman’s
radio blaring, so many strangers passing
in separate zones, even the lonely
going nowhere, and arriving home.
Miles at high speed to make up
for that delay at Newark. In the black
window my own watery
reflection, passengers passing time.
Another train appears inches away,
keeping pace; the same
windows dimly lit like distant candles. Faces
in their dark pools, serious in transit.
There’s just time to register the succession
of mute strangers.
Like friends you never meet
A loss not keenly felt, I think.
And then, as if to prove me wrong,
in the next window a man
smiles and waves and is gone.
Sunk to its knees in the field
broken-backed, past raiding;
the chicken coop contains the field.
What is it that loves disorder?
That leads the eye to crave broken
window, caved roof, and fulfills that desire?
I’ll travel far and bring a camera
to see a place inhabited by its ghosts.
I’ll bring a camera to see
the crooked door half-painted
algae green with kick marks
for its lower panels.
Here, even the ghosts have given up,
taken the hinges and the thresholds;
the living’s contrived silences
necessitating doors. A piece
of wire fence nailed seventy years
to a hole keeps nothing out
and nothing in. So they become
one: the wire, the gaping;
the field, the field.
Walnuts dropping from the trees.
A wheel loosens from a cart
and veers down a dirt road.
In the woody rafters,
two barn owls
tilt their ears
to the heartbeats
of mice scurrying the hay bales,
two faces brushed white
A windfall of forms
sharpens against the void.
Fluted sea of cornstalks,
evening, back-lit in a ground fog.
The gourds blink silent and human.
And you, size of whelk
in my body’s slumber,
envelop the first darkness.
It was your due date and a little
knot of fire tugged at my psyche.
A half-life of Mondays have dragged
their heels against the landscape, gone:
trash days, trudge days, without-any-moon-days,
that terrible not-long-ago day
when we lost your grandfather.
In school, Monday was a crisp spelling list,
the words arbitrary, sentenced
to their numbered plots in cursive script.
Glacier Insatiable Stationary
I tried to cull a meaning from them,
string of lost objects that would set
a raggedy anthem for another week,
some sonic focal point
as the dust motes caught shafts of light.
Hickory Saint Kestrel:
now go, fashion a mountain.
I don’t blame you choosing a different entry
although in your astronomy
the conventions of day and night
have not yet been torn in half.
You have your own dark map.
No need to net a fish and call it fish.
Come gold when the tide is going.
We will meet you at the opening gate of any hour
with our unimaginable faces
and all the carefully cleared space for sound,
our Djembe Larvae Rockabelly Swoon.
Douse the lampwick’s last light,
flood the room with a monsoon
of static, tiny grief-birds
whistling from the attic—
(you do not) go down easy
with your newly discovered hands
wringing fits of air.
There, the first gate cries in return,
its overvining shadows throw a landscape
against the wall,
clench and release, your body
one muscle held against the night.
The second gate is a plane of sound:
cicadas scissor the grass
rainwater drips into bottles and you
buck the dark, darkling,
yodel your oval wind, fall
upward as we open the third gate
suspended in catalpa trees, please
follow we promise no death
this daily lying down a human thing.
We will row you, lotus you
tra-la and river you
while the one-handed clock
Come, grow vague with us,
fidget the sky.
my mother works
the stove, and I am a child,
I will not grow
to be as tall as her:
an inch or so less.
I won't cook like her either—
how she draws sauce
a little flour, milk,
dash of salt, pepper,
then spoons it onto our meat.
She lets me lick the beater, coated
with mashed potatoes.
After dinner, we take a stale loaf
into the yard, crumble
it between us.
If she is unhappy,
I’m too young to know it—
what men and time
have sapped her of.
If she is tired,
her hands full
with children and chores,
I refuse to see it,
her hair glowing
in porch light,
across the lawn,
the birds all swarming
You would hardly recognize the woman’s face,
the long hair I’ve since stopped dyeing
and the perfume of New England behind me.
Last we met spring was on its way
and you could not speak. I had to imagine your voice
after you died, wondering what you might tell me.
I had to cull you from dreams, search you
in symbols: every rustling leaf on windless days,
each butterfly. I was foolish
but could you blame me? I had so many questions
and you were not coming back. Friends asked
if I felt you, like a current of creek water
or coat button. Nothing of you remained—
only the years, a gulf widening where the fog
from your Marlboros vanished.
Once a year on my trip home I walk
these hills to your headstone.
Just some ashes, an engraved name
obscured by wild chive, dandelions burning
with sun. None of you is here,
but this is where you are. Remember me
each time I bend to this earth, returning
to smooth the cool grasses,
growing older and older until
I am nothing and a part of you again.
Even now, when lightning slashes through morning,
you will remember girlhood.
Your parents were still sleeping in the hours you woke,
a southern storm pouring over the house when you’d creep
to the back porch in some big, battered shirt of your father’s
to inhale deeply the scent of the world.
How else could you describe that lit dawn
but electric? It might’ve been the first time you felt alive,
a girl, dreaming her life like the faraway flashes of a moving storm.
Don’t you remember how everything smelled after rain?
Edging the perimeter of the yard, fingering those drenched begonias,
the beauty of a neighborhood not yet risen, the silence
of discovery when the wet grass slid through your toes?
You’d do anything to touch that again
on some morning when the rain curls you into hibernating.
You were a girl and now the body rejects that.
You know too well the soaked clothes when the umbrella breaks,
when you heave groceries uphill, when you run backwards
and backwards until breathless. The yard slags,
your parents are dead. And those moments of magic
happen less and less, but sometimes, even you must admit,
you are struck by the cursive of birds,
a rogue wave that pushes saltwater up your nose,
or the breath you take emerging again and again
each morning, opening the door to the world
and remembering those escapes when no one was looking,
when the backyard seemed immeasurable, and the sky, infinite.
Hard to imagine Bashō
died here in a rented room above a flower shop
in 1694, as I pause today
on Dōtonbori Street, shoppers brushing past
on either side, to gaze
at the giant red mechanical crab
stretching its legs over the door
of the Kani Doraku seafood
restaurant, its eye stalks rotating in a breeze
too high for me to feel. No more
kabuki, no more bunraku.
Now everyone comes here
to eat. Two teenage girls pour
batter thick with ginger and purple
chunks of octopus
into sizzling takoyaki griddles
in an open-air café. And up
and down the street I’m distracted again
and again by ramen, udon,
okonomyaki, yakitori. Spiny fish
and green eels swim
in blue-lit tanks. Everything’s alive
or just was, is for sale, can be eaten.
“That’s not news,” the fishmonger
laughs. “Everything depends which end
of the knife you’re on.”
Once, an old story goes, a monarch—
or perhaps he was a composer?—
lay fading in an upstairs bedroom.
He was so beloved, so missed
and longed-for already
that the townspeople scattered hay
in the cobbled street beneath his windows
to muffle the clanking shoes of horses
passing by. Falling sick on a journey, my dream
goes wandering, Bashō’s last poem goes,
over a field of dry grass. The thing about
last words, a biographer
said, is being able to get them out
in that last breath
as you squeeze the hand
of a nurse or student crouched
beside the bed. Someone
held his hand, I hope, as someone else
reached for the brush and ink
kept on the table to take down
that poem and save it
for us, whomever we might be.
I like to think the shopkeeper
brought up some flowers to comfort him,
a blur of pink and orange
in a raku vase (a tea bowl, actually,
but the closest thing to hand),
or perhaps a gnarled bonsai
older already than he would ever be.
But no one thought
to write this part down. If I had to
guess, I think he would
have preferred to see once more
the broad green leaves
of the wild ginger that sprang up—
he had looked for the purple
urn-shaped flowers each spring—
along the narrow road
he still followed through his sleep.
Weird magic, it seems now, a spell to believe
in the candles crossed like swords
before your neck for the Feast of St. Blaise—
God preserve you, the priest intoned again
and again. We stood in line,
the whole school, as the white tapers
were pressed against each neck to ward off
sore throats, a lost voice, something
worse. Now, that life’s like an old black coat
I’ve unbuttoned and hung in the closet
and won’t ever wear again, though
I can’t quite give it away. I can still feel
my way back to the guilty thrill as I fingered
the crucifix on that worn rosary,
the thick cross with a little door on the back
closed tight with an even littler screw.
It held a relic, someone said—I remember that
hushed voice—a few specks of bone
from the shoulder or ankle of a minor saint,
something I had to see, those gray flecks
smaller than rice grains I stared at
in queasy wonder, tilting the cross
so they’d catch the light—a little, just a little
more—till they slipped out and blew away.
That’s a hot dog with fried onions
(the kind that come in a can) and stripes
of brown mustard and mayo. We each
ate one standing outside the metal shack
down by the harbor. It’d become a tourist site—
seriously, a green bus pulled up; and after all
we were there, weren’t we?—
after Bill Clinton stopped by for a pyls
and a Coke a few years back.
They have his picture up over the register.
He must have done what we did—
turned around slowly till the wind
blew at his back and watched the whale-watchers
straggling back in off the boat, gray-faced
in their yellow and blue slickers,
glanced past them to the Esso station—
odd how it’s the best place to get your hands on
cups of yogurty skyr, the ones with the smart
folding spoons tucked under the lids—
and wondered why are gas stations
also often restaurants here, the only lights on
in the smaller towns, and felt secretly happy
about this country’s love of burgers and dogs,
pizza, fries dipped in remoulade, even if
a hot dog sets you back seven bucks (he wouldn’t
have cared, or even known) because
everything’s shipped in and trucked around,
until the wind turns around again
so you do too, and wolf down your last two bites.
Sundown stillness, an absence of wingsound
like Mingus out of earshot.
It’s happened. The world freezes—
arcs of translucent water
on front lawns, cars stopped on the roads,
a motionless hawk
a tenth of a mile above the soybean field—
until my hand brushes the wild grapes on the fence,
three days old, old as the moon.
The plum-stained sidewalk faintly viridescent,
the pits a ruin as much as Italica.
If the plums’ disappearance is a country, like sleep,
their taste is a country where only the dead sleep.
Then the moth’s eyes of the dew open,
the radiant underhang lining wire fences,
radiant as the memory of my father welding, a silhouette
hunched over a blue flame,
body auraed by blue sparks.
Now, with night approaching, new-foaled & so near,
a glimpse of its mane
in the east, I’ve neglected to ask when that was.
How dear you are to me, I should have said, how strange
that I can remember your whiskery kiss.
When Dante plucked a reed from the island of reeds
the same one grew back in its place.
When we lose a memory, we look for a while
into the distance,
radio towers flashing above the dusk-blued horizon line...
we hear doors closing, cars starting up, a hawk calling
beyond whatever we’re looking at.
We walk into an empty room, & forget why we came in.
Outside the window that only gives to the east wind,
last sunfall splayed on the sill,
you’re shaking out birdseed onto the new snow,
looking up at the sky above Florence,
rosettes & riblines pressed into the clouds,
wing- & thumbprints amidst the phosphorescent patches
of plane lights in the cloud cover,
as one by one they ascend
& coalesce into the radiance.
What space did your body leave behind that night
as you rose, what shade of blue
did you leave in the air?
Chagall, I think, the blue of Chagall,
blue of his dreamers flying
above the towns they were born in,
the blue in the lips of a drowned man
who looks like he’s been hung on a line to dry,
waving for the rest of his death,
hair washed in a marlin’s wake.
Here a salt lake would surround the island of reeds.
I’ve yet to see it, & still dream of a reed
that will grow back as soon as it’s plucked,
là giù colà dove la batte l’onda’,
where the water laps the shore.
Are you still waiting, as I am, for a word to be spoken
over your life, for the blessing
of a hand’s windtouch on your head?
Do you linger, near to the dusk as you can get,
because you hope to rise again, to watch it disappear
to dissolve in the silver birchlight of a new moon so near
you can feel it pulse in your chest?
Here Aurelius has never spoken, & the salt lake at sunset
begins to shine from within,
as if suffused by a pink bioluminescent sargasso weed...
We’ll go on waiting, watching the sky for a sign
in the wakes of comets,
for bodies & lights disappearing suddenly,
waiting for a wing to touch us
before we join the brilliance at last.
Walnuts’ green shells char on the branches.
Shrunken blackberries wither on the vine, the roadside
presto coral of wild sunflowers & black-eyed
Susans hang limp with dust. A drought chanted
into being by the quickening tongues of the canyon fires,
three in the last three days, roaring through scrub pine
& mahogany, fallen brush & deadfall for their kindling.
Everything around us thirsts—that the city was underwater
once is almost impossible to believe, the eastern ridgelines
a shore. Yet look: a contrail above it whitens, the colour
of the wakes our bodies leave on the water,
the seven day drought of moon ending. The distance
between us has disappeared, the white water suddenly
all around us. We share one thirst. Drink with me.
into the poem, assuming you are
an average person of average health,
your heart will have beat eleven times,
and you will have taken one breath.
By the time you get to the word “cells”
in the next line, thirty million of your
red blood cells will have died, but
by our best estimates, thirty million
more will have been produced.
This requires amino acids.
Pretend, for a moment, each
character in this poem represents one
amino acid. To make one cell, this poem
would need to last three billion pages.
This would be equivalent to a book
of Whitman’s “Song of Myself” printed,
back to back, over 100 million times.
And inside each amino acid
we can find approximately twenty atoms,
made of, mostly, emptiness—so small
that one billion of them fit in the space
of this I.
It breaks down,
it breaks down. There is so much
it can be hard to swallow. But pause, think
of your heart once more, having completed
just under 80 beats by now. Or your eyes,
having blinked eleven times.
This is knowable beauty, this is
quantifiable splendor. It says: Come here,
to the page. When we lace knowledge into
lines, it says: let me quicken your heart-rate.
Excuse me mister, hello, one minute?
I am permanently an American
and I want information. The language
is hard for me, but I am learning and
my mother is learning smaller. Please,
where is the street I want? Where
is here? On the map, where is this?
I want help, please now, I do not
understand a lot in this minute; but
my mother is handicapped. Please,
for me, one more time. I want to
understand and I also want the bus.
Where is it, where is my mother, please,
help. After when I am in the bus, after,
I want a chair. My mother is an invalid,
I need a chair for my mother. Please.
No? No. Why do you not understand?
Please, then, where is the elevator,
my mother and I, I want to ascend.
I heard the sun sing.
I was inside, Tuesday, outside
it was raining. I played the sun song
on my computer, an AIFF file, and heard
nothing. I tried another version, an AU file.
It started cranking along, silently—What are these
files? I’ve never even heard of these filetypes. Who
makes an mp3 of the sun? How do you make—
then a low throbbing coming from
outside, like someone slowly strumming
a guitar, blocks away. At this point I was
staring out the window, again, the rain. I hadn’t
heard the sun. But then I looked and saw
the file was still running. No, it can’t be.
I paused it, my far-off strummer
paused as well. I played it,
my far-off strummer
played. The song of the sun.
It was dull, but the sun. The sun!
How strange that we record such a thing,
such a non-thing, that the sound has breached
the distance. I can’t stop listening to it.